Zach Braff’s debut as a feature film writer was the wonderful Garden State, so it should be no surprise that his West End debut as a writer and performer should be as well formed as All New People.
Susannah Fielding (Kim), Zach Braff (Charlie Bloom), Paul Hilton (Myron Dunlap) and Eve Myles (Emma Thomas) in All New People at the Duke Of Yorks Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Not only is it very well written and funny, not only does the characterisation come from the script as well as the performers, not only does Braff totally get pathos, and how alternating between the comic and the tragic heightens both, but also it has a depth and an intelligence.
Braff does try to shoehorn in his unsurprising views on bankers and the American dream, which suggests that perhaps any depth will be, paradoxically, superficial. But then the play begins to investigate loneliness, friendship, the nature of self and of our place in the universe - like a stoned conversation without the pretension - and it opens out.
As Charlie, a man caught in a suicidal act at the start of the play, Braff conveys well the angst of someone totally lost within himself. He is discovered by Emma - Eve Myles who begins nervously with a Miranda Hart impersonation, but relaxes into the role and shows a real understanding of comedy.
They are, in the convoluted fashion of a comedy, joined by intellectual stoner fireman Myron (Paul Hilton creating a man at ease with the mask he has given himself) and Kim, a high-class hooker, who Susannah Fielding (and, as writer, Braff) could have made a cliche, but skilfully plays her on the right side of funny.
All the characters have a tragedy they are trying to hide, and here is where the play falls slightly as either Braff or director Peter DuBois fail to appreciate the effectiveness of the writing. The characters’ backstories are told in short films, when in fact the strength of the actors’ performances and, indeed, the skilful teasing out of the plot actually renders them unnecessary. It’s as if Braff doesn’t quite believe he has the skill to tell the story through the stage alone. Perhaps he’s the most surprised of everyone.