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One Day When We Were Young (Sheffield)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
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It’s a great idea for a season: three new plays performed by a specially created ensemble and staged intimately in the round. The evening starts well, as the audience is ushered into a purpose-built wooden arena, within which actors and stage management perform their pre-show preparations in full view, immediately creating an atmosphere of warmth and inclusion. It’s just a huge shame that this capable team couldn’t have found a better play to put inside their captivating space.

The programme for Nick Payne’s play makes the bold claim that his work examines “the impact of the Second World War on two ordinary lives and a love that spans more than sixty years”, but the reality is not so interesting and feels more like a first draft than a finished play.

Perhaps it is unfortunate for Payne, that his piece shares half its title with David Nicholls’ popular novel One Day, and is being premiered in the same space that, earlier this year, saw an exciting revival of David Hare’s Plenty. Payne’s work seems derivative of both, but has nothing of the depth of character or atmospheric evocation of period of either. Its principal flaw is that its opening scene, which introduces an idealistic young couple in 1942, fails to establish enough interest in either character or their relationship for us to care about what will follow. This problem is exacerbated by the huge leaps between time periods (first to 1963, then to 2002), which necessitate large chunks of expositionary dialogue to be worked clumsily into the latter scenes and a general flouting of the “show, don’t tell” principle.

The young cast (Maia Alexander and Andrew Sheridan) do their best to create some substance around their thinly written parts and are aided by Clare Lizzimore’s able direction, in particular her decision to show the actors re-dressing and making-up in preparation for each new scene. However, when your scene changes become more interesting than your scenes, you know you’re in trouble.

Though the inadequacy of Payne’s play may have got the Roundabout Season off to a disappointing start, if production values are anything to go by, the rest still holds much promise. Richard Wilson (whose tight Studio productions of The Pride and That Face will be remembered by Sheffield audiences) directs the next play Lungs (opening October 19th) and the final piece, The Sound of Heavy Rain (opening November 16th), has been commissioned specifically for the clearly talented ensemble. Better luck next time.


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