Directed by Stephen Darcy
Theatre Royal, Brighton
Torben Betts is an interesting and funny playwright and this play from him is produced by the award winning Original Theatre Company who give us a quality nights entertainment.
With the recession biting hard, Southerners Emily and Oliver have been forced to downsize and shift their middle-class London lifestyle to a more affordable small town in the north of England, Emily has roots there, although she is pure right-on Veggie Londoner at heart, Oliver tries to be a man of the people but has had the benefit of a privileged upbringing, they hope living among ‘real people’ will give their children a decent start in life.
One night they open their doors and invite next door neighbours, Dawn and Alan into their home. Over the course of this disastrous evening of olives, anchovies, Karl Marx and abstract art the various views, attitudes, presumptions and prejudices of their class and culture collide as we observe the underlying passions, and expectations of the two couples playing out.
It’s an odd play, the first half pure Alan Ayckbourn, funny, sharp, some acute social observations, the delicious awkwardness of British social situations where no one really knows each other. The actors all shine and it’s an accomplished bit of ensemble work, with some wonderful clowning from Graham Brookes as working class postman with a heart of gold Alan. It got some good laughs from the audience and they seemed entertained enough to overlook some of the plot holes…
The second half is an altogether more crepuscular and dark piece of work, although it starts with some wonderful knock about farce and a major misunderstanding about a dead cat and an extra marital fling which leads us into the root causes of both couples problems.
We then move swiftly on to peeling back to the causes of the tensions, the worries, the clashes the vicious unkind political treachery of the working classes in the United Kingdom by it’s ruling elite both now and over time has caused. It exposes the political lies of patriotism and a ‘noble death’ and the harm it does to communities, families and mothers.
I was surprised by its impact and it’s a savaging of the British stiff upper lip and particularly of the Armed Forces ‘cannon fodder’ relationship with the men (and women) of the working class. There’s a lot going on, the impact of loss and grief are explored with dignity and humour, the unbearable mothers loss of a child the central bridge of the piece, the reflection of men on their worth and self-worth and the recognition of there being more to life than football on TV, shopping and endless empty repetitive conversations.
It’s a tragic ending, hard, sad, savage and all the more real for it and although it appears to be a play about social froth it’s a more incisive play looking at the modern struggle for a significant identity and the desperate need for people to have some meaning, some intelligent direction to their lives and futures, done with dignity, intelligence and humour.
Runs until Thurday, March 30