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Impossible Steps

In one way Stephen M Hunt's play Impossible Steps has an affinity with Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade – what happens when the lunatics take over the asylum?

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Towngate Theatre, Basildon 22-23 May Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford 19-20 June The Theatre, Brentwood 25-27 June Mumford Theatre, Cambridge 17 October The Playhouse, Harlow 23-24 October The key difference is that you know where you are with the latter right from its beginning. The Hunt play keeps you mystified until two-thirds through. And there's more than one way to be mystified We meet the main female character in Rome, near the Spanish Steps. She's a middle-aged American divorcée with an eye to fashion are displayed in the nearby boutiques. Then she encounters a strange Italian man with an unusual line in pick-up techniques. As they flounder around each other, so do we.

Is this comedy? surrealism? super-naturalism? or just (perhaps) a tragedy in the making? There's also another and younger couple, Gina and Barry. Their relationship, which is both personal and professional, is on the rocks. He is shown to be abusive in both word and deed. How do they relate to the older pair? How does the enigmatic Marco fit into all their lives?

Questions galore are thus posed but for far too long we are left in as much of a mist about what's really going on as the play's characters themselves. The acting is good – Hildegard Neil flounces and flurries as the older woman (who's given no personal name other than Not-An-I) and Michael Heywood matches her as the equally enigmatic "Pops", who poses solutions as well as questions but has no real answers.

Rosalind Blessed gives a strong performance as Gina, who gives the impression of being one of life's survivors. You want to cheer when she manages to turn her dual expulsion into a modest triumph. Mark Hayden is Barry, who can be cruel but not kind, and Andrew Fettes is suitably decisive as Marco.

Somewhere in all those words is an interesting play about identity, its crises of comprehension, its strengths and its weaknesses. Neil and the author are credited as co-directors; this is something which I feel is not always a wise undertaking. An outside director might have trimmed some of the woolier exchanges and tautened the stage action.

Anne Morley-Priestman

(reviewed at the Rhodes Arts Centre, Bishop's Stortford on 7 May 2009)

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