Abi Morgan is fast establishing a reputation as one of Britain's best young playwrights - and deservedly so. Morgan has an ability to get to the heart of the personal problems of today's younger generation. With both Tiny Dynamite, which recently premiered in Edinburgh and Tender, she digs beneath the surface of people badly hurt in relationships.
In Tender, Morgan's characters are incapacitated specifically by loss and loneliness in its different guises. Perhaps the most striking is the loquacious, neurotic Tash (played achingly and convincingly by Kate Fleetwood). A 30-year-old woman who changes jobs and men like clothes, Tash constantly wounds herself emotionally but tries to put a brave face on her unsuccessful search for even a two-night stand.
Her friend and confidant is the pregnant Hen (Caroline Faber). These two are opposite poles. Hen is a thinker while Tash does her best to avoid thought and substitute action. Hen is, to all appearances, happily partnered but she suffers from intense insecurity, suspecting Al (David Kennedy) of having a seven-year itch that needs scratching. This puts a strain on their relationship which is exacerbated by Hen's dread of being left alone like Tash.
There's also Nathan (Sean O'Callaghan) who's attempting to rebuild his life after losing his wife. A market researcher with an over-serious - and quite hilarious - regard for his job, Nathan is at the center of the play's greatest comic moment when he prompts a young doctor (played by David Bagnall) to launch into a tirade against a market-driven society that encourages consumers to buy and eat and overstrain their hearts for doctors to fix.
Surrounded by photographs of missing people, Niki Turner's set is simple but, together with the wide-ranging choice of music, it creates a great sense of place, absence and melancholy.
Thankfully, Morgan does provide us with some relief, shining a light at the end of this harrowing tunnel of emotion with a series of possible ways out. What is clear from her incisive writing, however, is that for these characters and so many in today's society, the mythical happiness and safety of the nuclear family is very much a thing of the past.
- reviewed by Philip Fisher
Tender runs at London's Hampstead Theatre from 6 September to 6 October 2001, then transfers to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 10 October to 3 November 2001.