Mike Bartlett’s play, nearing the end of a UK tour, follows one idealistic couple from their first pot-influenced meeting in 1967, through parenthood to two teenagers in 1990, to a final act in the present day, in which their selfish, hedonistic lifestyles have come back to haunt them with a vengeance.
There are a number of problems with this, quite apart from the unreachable requirement on the actors to age more than 40 years convincingly. Chief among them is the lack of any kind of growth of the characters: Kenneth and Sandra are just as destructively hideous at the end as they were at the beginning. There are, quite literally, no redeeming features, and the fallout from their complete emotional stuntedness is both bleak and depressing.
Their words and their children’s are reduced to mere slogans, trotting out facile opposing world views, while the characterisations are as minimal as the present-day set, all sterile and cold.
But wait, this is a comedy! Hold on, though – where are the laughs? Actually, there is a really funny line (“We live in Reading. Something’s gone wrong.”) but otherwise it’s a bunch of utterly unlikable, unrecognisable people mostly screaming at each other and swearing a lot. In my book, this does not a comedy make. Nor does it really have anything new or enlightening to say.
All of which might be at least salvageable as some kind of social record, were it not for the fact that James Grieve’s production is just as relentlessly grim as the script, with the cast of five dismally left floundering with Bartlett’s deliberately obtuse and proscriptive stage instructions, including such helpful details for the actors as speeches “with no written dialogue”.
The only solution appears to be successive displays of hyperactive shrieking, to which they resort with full-voiced relish.
It’s a strident, stark assault on the senses and hardly to be recommended as a diverting piece of entertainment. If you like your theatre raw, loud and a little bit nasty, on the other hand…