Corpus Playroom Mainshow – 7.00pm Tues 2nd-Sat 6th March 2010
“Don’t waste your time on Higher Education. It’s only a way of postponing real life.” David Hare’s script is full of well-observed wit and creates a fractured relationship in adequate detail, but one finds socio-political messages being shoved all too often down your throat (social workers good, banker’s bad, and politicians abhorrent). The basic plot? “You fuck me first then you criticise my lifestyle”: Tom and Kyra had an affair; Tom’s wife found out and Kyra left; three years later, Tom returns to Kyra for a sort of reconciliation. Empty anecdotes, vague debates, and fundamental disagreements fill this curate’s egg of a play with a cutting dialogue of emotional tit-for-tattery. It is a worthwhile experiment to situate yourself within the minefield of issues in play here, and fortunately the script isn’t the only interest to keep you going in this strong production.
Direction is applied by Richard Keith with surety, a lightness of touch, and welcome restraint. One really felt, however, that the sense of character and delivery came from the actors themselves. Attention to detail was commendable, while costumes and lighting (with a little less blue, please) were put together well. The set, although unimaginative, suited the Playroom space well. A net curtain pinned to the wall made an unconvincing window but could be forgiven thanks to the well-chosen postcard selection tacked next to it.
For the most part the play is a two-hander, so the success of the production lies almost entirely with Josh Higgott and Katherine Press as the central pairing. In their competent hands the script takes on the currency it requires. Higgott, clearly the stronger actor of the pair, delivers a performance both believable and subtle. He steps fully into the role with a crafted knack not only for conveying the moods of a middle-aged banker but also allowing the character some welcome complexity. The script is not without a little humour and Higgott’s deadpan delivery won a few chuckles. A greater variation in his rants and outbursts would help to break the play’s heavy-handedness and monotony, but overall it is an admirable performance.
As the action of the play progresses one finds oneself wishing some of this naturalistic ease would rub off on his counterpart. Press is confident, easy on the eye, and technically well-versed, but is unconvincing and ultimately un-affecting. She creates a hollow character, seemingly happy to deliver a well-written script capably instead of searching for something truer. Press waited for her cues, delivered her lines at pace, and filled everything in between with good posture.
Mention should go to the supporting character of Tom’s son Edward who opens and ends the play, played admirably by Chris Nelson. Pitched largely at one level (that of understated late-adolescent intensity), Nelson lacked the conviction of Higgott but still delivered a plausible and entertaining performance.
The fact that these are essentially good actors makes one hypercritical. This show is more engaging than most and of a standard which exceeds the student mean. Competence in itself does not, however, make for thrilling theatre. At times the actors seemed to be enjoying their own performances more than the audience. Occasional sections of dialogue descended into rapid-fire line runs instead of nuanced exchanges. There are moments when each of the actors excels, but these rarely come together and one is left wishing for a little more emotional honesty. Impressive as it is to have staged so dialogue-heavy a piece with such assurance, one gets the feeling Higgott and Press were a little too willing to use the play as a prop for their own performances.