Most tube-travelling theatregoers leave the Angel and turn right onto Upper Street, heading for the King’s Head or Almeida. But a smart left turn takes you fifty yards to the Old Red Lion, where Dan Muirden’s The Things Good Men Do could prove to be this year’s Rabbit.
It is not as accomplished or as tightly written as Nina Raine’s play but, like Rabbit, Things is a promising debut with an unmistakeable ring of truth in its depiction of emotional crisis among the young professional city slickers. It begins with best mates Nick (Tom Harper) and Joe (Samuel James) spinning a globe to quiz each other on the nationality of their sexual conquests.
Nick, Muirden’s central character, is a ghastly, self-regarding hedge fund manager who wants to settle down and have children with Lucy (Victoria Shalet). He is played by Harper as a young Tom Conti type, with a similar glossy, brushed back coiffure and a pathetically short fuse (and willy, apparently). He is trying to extricate himself from an affair with Adriana (Susanna Fiore), an Italian with whom he has explored the dark side of his sexuality and who inexplicably adores him; she suddenly reveals she is pregnant.
The screws are tightened with the revelation that Lucy has only a fifty-fifty chance of ever having children herself, and that Adriana wants to keep her baby and not have the abortion Tom hysterically insists upon. Other cracks start to appear when Lucy decides to take a well paid job in insurance courtesy of another of Tom’s friends, Rich (Alexander Warner), and build a nest, while Tom wants to take redundancy and chill out in Fiji.
The best mate syndrome is allied to the best man function: Nick caves in completely while delivering his speech at Rich’s wedding, and his repeat role at Joe’s future ceremony is under threat. Joe’s romance is a background feature, one of several loose threads in the narrative. Another is Adriana’s late arrival with a baby girl who turns out not to be Nick’s after all. She has had the abortion and moved on.
Some of the writing is bitty and under-powered, and the play drifts in the centre, but Jamie Harper’s production plays to its strengths, which are a Neil LaBute-like emotional brutality and an unflinching honesty in discussing the highs and lows of friendship. The various locations of bars, bedrooms, flats and even a tube train, are cleverly designed by Signe Beckmann with a couple of mobile trunks and sliding panels.
None of the characters, with the exception of Adriana, luminously played by Fiore, is remotely likeable. And even Lucy, who fights back spiritedly after being so badly treated by Nick, is given the fully shrill air-head treatment by Shalet. But the play hits home, finally, in its rawness and authenticity. Muirden has obviously written something out of his system in Nick’s moral, Don Juan style come-uppance. Where he goes next will be worth watching.
- Michael Coveney