Virgin (Watford)

A recipe for heartbreak in EV Crowe’s latest at the Watford Palace Theatre.

Rosie Wyatt & Laura Elphinstone
Rosie Wyatt & Laura Elphinstone
Frances Richens

There's physical anorexia, a well-documented problem. There's also anorexia of the mind, one might even say of the soul. EV Crowe explores both these aspects in Virgin which has as its background the current attempts to roll out high-speed broadband to rural areas.

Joe Murphy, artistic director of nabokov, which is producing this second play in the Ideal World season in association with Watford's Palace Theatre, stages the eleven scenes in a semi-realistic set by Alex Lowde.

Emily and Mark have one of those role-reversal marriages. She works in local government administration but has high-flying ambitions (for which her abilities do not necessarily fit her). He is the house-husband, looking after their infant daughter and cooking the meals.

Then there's consultant Sally, with whom Emily tries to ingratiate herself and Emily's rather more laid-back colleague Thomas. It amounts to a recipe for heartbreak, though there are laughs – some of them of the wry variety – aplenty.

Perhaps Mark is the most sympathetic of the characters, willing to support his wife's career even while it precludes him from actually doing his own preferred work. Michael Shelford makes him very credible as a person and not just as a symbol.

Emily in Laura Elphinstone's portrayal is a lanky bundle of misplaced energies and frustrations, someone incapable of seeing her own limitations. If only she was able to listen, really listen to other people.

Sally, on the other hand, may be hazy about her eating problems but she's as sharp as the proverbial needle when it comes to assessing people and their worth to whatever project her firm is involved with. Rosie Wyatt has her measure.

Simon Darwen makes Thomas into one of those hail-fellow, fall-on-their-feet-regardless men who litter town halls and council offices. It's all sharp and snappy with whiplash dialogue in brisk exchanges; Elphinstone doesn't always come across as clearly as she should do in these.

I would have liked to care about the future of these characters, but somehow Crowe manages to inhibit this.