Venue: Studio
Where: Salford

The departure of their daughter to university makes clear just how little Roy (Leo Atkin) and Rita (Alexis Tuttle) have in common. Roy has begun to fantasise about other women and Rita regrets not having more fun when she had the chance. The appointment of ex-conman Jack (Matthew Melbourne) to undertake some building work pushes the couple to the point of no return.
 
Writer Brian Marchbank’s Sparks is a low-key exploration of people living lives of quiet desperation. Alyx Tole provides sympathetic direction allowing events to unfold without contrivance at a natural pace so that you can appreciate the pressures with which the characters are struggling.
 
Although Sparks is not promoted as high drama it features characters who are, in their own small way, challenging the beliefs upon which they have built their lives and trying to correct past mistakes. It is pleasure to watch Leo Atkins gradually unwind the contorted controlling Roy to the point where the man can acknowledge past errors and plan changes. Marchbank pays less attention to the character of Rita who could, without the skilful human touch of Alexis Tuttle, be seen as predatory.
 
Marchbank’s play is a mature exploration of the tiny irritants of modern life (thankless work, controlling parents) that add up to make life miserable but in such a sly way you rarely notice what is happening. But Marchbank fails to develop the character of Jack. Although Matthew Melbourne gives us a charming unrepentant rogue Jack remains a plot device rather than a fully realised character. He is there to move along the plot, reflect the dissatisfactions of Roy and Rita and offer solutions. He is also used to add more drama to the play; an effort that leads to its major weakness. In trying to introduce a degree of tension into the script Marchbank writes an ending that is so contrived you just want to shout ‘ Oh c’mon!’
 
Sparks takes a refreshingly non-sensational approach to its subject and offers a thoughtful but entertaining play. Such a pity about that ending.
 
- Dave Cunningham