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People Like Us/Happy Never After

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Born out of two ten-minute plays created as part of Old Vic New Voices’ TS Eliot US/UK Exchange, People Like Us and Happy Never After showcase the talents of two young writers - Jake Brunger and Hannah Rodger - alongside those of a variety of next-big-thing Old Vic New Voices: 24 Hour Plays graduates.

Produced in the intimate StageSpace at the Pleasance Theatre and with aspirations of greater things in the future, these two character studies are a mixture of wonderful and work-in-progress.

Hannah Rodger's Happy Never After is a perfect little gem of a play, a two-hander full of heart-wrenching emotion and drama. Rodger squeezes a huge amount of pathos out of what, on the surface, is a very normal, ordinary story, creating situations that are exceedingly true to life. Charmingly acted by Jessica Ellis and recent graduate Liam Mansfield, this tale of how true love can disintegrate ("How long have we got?") when health issues enter the equation drags at your heart. You can see where it's going from an early stage, but Rodger inserts enough twists to keep you guessing, while Ellis and Mansfield's wonderful chemistry is a pleasure to watch. Although the low-budget nature of this production means an element of realism – numerous costume and location changes – is missing, this is only a minor quibble, easily rectified in its next incarnation. This is a five star play in every respect.

People Like Us isn't quite as much of a success story. This somewhat ill-thought out tale of what to do with a crumbling country house focuses on class snobbery, clichés and relationship rivalry. Sammy Kissin gives a strong, reactive performance as house custodian and long-suffering wife Clemmy, while Leah Brotherhead’s Sally is beautifully sparky and feisty. Nicholas Banks does the best he can with limited material but his Tom is incredibly one-dimensional - you wonder why Clemmy stays with him, especially when she references his cheating towards the conclusion of the piece.

Despite best efforts, George Taylor gives an overly mannered performance as Josh, with his almost disengaged mode of line delivery distracting from the piece. Director Kirsty Patrick Ward does a good job with what she has, but this play would benefit from a rewrite by Brunger, tightening up the ideas, giving some resolution to matters and allowing Tom some redemptive qualities, instead of forcing him to repeat the same character-enforcing banalities throughout. There’s potential here, though it’s a little too stifled for comfort.

-by Miriam Zendle

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