Monday, 4 March 2013

Losing the Plot - review

Written by: Naomi Lawson (@NaomiMLawson)

Fairfield Halls, Croydon 

In 1993 John Godber was reportedly the third most performed playwright after Alan Ayckbourn and William Shakespeare. But in 2013, where a whole host of new British playwrights have made their mark in the twenty years since then, does Losing the Plot (the fourth play written for the John Godber Company) still make a mark?

This two-hander, also directed by Godber and already part way through a nationwide tour, definitely has a feel of the now to it. Written specifically for actors Steve Huison and Susan Cookson, the play sees the duo take on the roles of husband and wife, Jack and Sally. Nearing fifty, with two teenage daughters, the couple face the daily struggle of building work nightmares, UCAS applications, open days, taxi duties for ageing parents and generally not having enough hours in the day. This narrative is run in parallel to a commentary on the state of Britain today, the Conservative government and their cuts and in particular how this affects jobs and the arts. When the stresses of them both become too much for art teacher (and wannabe artist) Jack, he chooses to escape by walking out on his wife and children for three months ‘to think’. The play then follows the couple’s attempts to rebuild their relationship, amidst Sally’s efforts to publish a comedy novel based on her husband and his escapades.

Huison and Cookson both give admirable performances as they move around the stage (a kitchen designed extremely realistically by Pip Leckenby) with great frustration and exasperation at life. Cookson successfully captures the emotional journey of Sally with wit, exposed fragility and determination as she moves from her busy role of mother, wife and flower shop owner to seemingly abandoned single mother and sole breadwinner to finally, a woman trying to make her own mark as an individual. Meanwhile, Huison mixes comedy with weariness and grievance at the system to portray a character who clashes, moans and jokes his way through the dismal state of Britain today. Together the two interact well, and in this piece of realism, there is a very realistic sense of love beneath all the troubles and squabbles they face.

Despite good performances, the play does have its holes. The first act in particular drags, with no real action driving it forward. The second act picks up considerably and we are, for the most part, engaged in the couples’ reconciliation process, although in itself that does feel a little stunted at times. There are also moments where the play becomes slightly too expositional and this becomes most clear in the social commentary aspect. References to schools becoming ‘academies’, ‘Woollies’ (Woolworths) going under and how having building work done is "cheaper than moving in this climate" all paint a picture of a very current Britain, but the lines sometimes seem shoehorned in. We see something similar with the argument about the integrity of the arts vs. popular culture as Jack proclaims "I found myself through the arts" and we are warned against the EBACC with "only the nobility will be able to access [the arts]". They are valid arguments, yet with Jack embodying the side of integrity of art and Sally embodying its commodification following the potential of her ‘lowbrow’ book, the two of them come to blows and it all feels a little too loud and on the surface.

They are issues that people feel strongly about, and issues that are definitely relevant and attention-worthy. But whilst Godber succeeds in showing the nuances within the couple’s relationship and daily struggles, there is a distinct lack of subtext in the views portrayed. A loud opinion on the arts may be no bad thing, but a slightly quieter inclusion would add that something extra to an admittedly still enjoyable play. 

This production is touring until 11 May 2013. 

Follow us on Twitter / Like us on Facebook

No comments: