Reviewed – 28th July 2022
“Helen Ramsay is brilliant as the bolshie good-timer, leaning into a very believable sibling-like petulance”
A and B have been friends for a few years now. Best friends even, and they’ve come to rely on one another for the truth. But B has started seeing someone who disapproves of A, and it’s tearing them apart.
The unlikeliness of their friendship is already in the script: A is rambunctious and charming, whereas B is introspective and uptight. But both love a tussle, and they’re not afraid to disagree, which is, we’re told, the crux of their relationship. That’s all well and good, but we never really get to see the good bits of the friendship, or, in particular, what B has to offer A. It’s hard to know whether this is the fault of writer Mike Bartlett or director James Haddrell, or maybe the chemistry just isn’t right, but ultimately, whilst A is definitely not perfect, B comes across a drag as well as a bad friend, so it’s kind of hard to support the friendship when it seems doomed from the get.
As we’ve come to expect from Bartlett, the script is quippy and clever, latticing political eloquence with nonsense banter. Helen Ramsay is brilliant as the bolshie good-timer, leaning into a very believable sibling-like petulance. Lauren Drennan definitely has the harder job, but despite her seeming fairly unlikeable in her relationship with A, she comes alive when she turns to the audience to speak directly about her choices, which does give us an idea of who she might’ve been when they first met.
But given there isn’t really a set- just a white curtain, and a coat rack- there’s a lot of pressure on Ramsay and Drennan to keep the audience entirely focused and engaged with pure dialogue for just under two hours, which would be a struggle with even the quippiest and most eloquent of scripts. Even a sofa would’ve done, or a couple of chairs, just to give some texture.
Without giving the whole thing away, the ending seems a little overwrought considering the careful nuance of the plot until then. Also, because a suspension cable is required in the last scene for health and safety, Ramsay quickly runs off stage at a crucially tense moment to be clipped on, and the audience is blasted with an angsty soundtrack as the stage momentarily blacks out, as though we might not notice this massive interruption, and I’m left feeling confused and distracted just when I’m supposed to be gripped.
It’s hard not to be particularly critical with a Mike Bartlett play, considering how well received the prolific writer has been in the last few years. But although I wanted this to be exceptional, it’s still very good, with moments of brilliance; a thoughtful consideration of what we expect of our friendships, and how much is too much.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Lidia Crisafulli
Greenwich Theatre until 13th August
Previously reviewed at this venue: