'Nobody Knows Anything' is the much-quoted verdict on the screen trade by one of the most successful scriptwriters ever, William Goldman. John Patrick Shanley's 1993 play is written from the same viewpoint with comic venom, putting together two actresses, a producer and a scriptwriter, all of whom are desperate to stab each other in the back. The intimate atmosphere of the Phoenix Artist Club brings out the intensity of Shanley's writing, as I discovered last year in a production of his early play Danny and the Deep Blue Sea that featured a charismatic performance by Amy Tez as the dysfunctional Roberta.
This time around Amy (who is also producer of this show) plays Brenda, a deceptively innocent but talent-free film actress on the make who chants 'I am famous' out loud to fill the gaps between takes. When it's clear that the production budget is overrunning and the script will have to be cut, Brenda seizes the chance to do down the leading lady Colette (Laura Pradelska) by ensuring her scenes are the ones that get dropped. Colette, producer Bradley (Daniel O'Meara) and screenwriter Victor (Joe Jameson) turn out to be equally ruthless, though Brenda and Colette both agree on one thing - the script has to be changed so that 'Johnny', the leading character, lives instead of dying. Shanley is good at writing scenes full of aggression and conflict, but perhaps less skilled at the high comedy of artistic hypocrisy. He turns around the old joke about the actress who was so naive she slept with the writer by making both women desperate to seduce Victor. By the end of the play it's Victor who emerges on top of the heap, poised to supplant the hapless director and take over the picture.
After seeing the show right at the beginning of its run, I feel it needs to vary the pace a bit and give the comedy space to breathe and generate more laughs. Director Josh Seymour's production moves forward at a cracking pace but some of the best lines get lost. I came expecting a satire on Hollywood and was a bit puzzled by the play's neurotic pressure-cooker atmosphere (something Tez does particularly well). Eventually I discovered that it's set not in laid-back Hollywood, as the programme cover and the music suggest, but in neurotic old New York. Suddenly it made more sense.
Normally I agree with Mr Goldman that nobody knows anything, but I do know that this production runs as part of the London Festival Fringe until August 20 and is well worth seeing.