“you’ll go and you’ll have a good time, but there’s not much of a lasting impression”
Since its inception in 2015, Four Play has more or less consistently had a production somewhere in London – a feat that usually only Shakespeare and Chekhov achieve. Does that mean Jake Brunger’s play is of the same calibre? Alas, not quite.
Four Play’s plot is kickstarted when Rafe (Ashley Byam) and Pete (Keeran Blessie), getting some serious FOMO from being each other’s only ever partners for the past seven years, proposition their friend Michael (Declan Spaine) to sleep with each of them to get all their anxieties out of their systems, which ultimately exposes the cracks in their relationship, as well as the jealousies in the supposedly polygamous arrangement Michael has with Andrew (Marc MacKinnon). The play gently touches on the idea of monogamy and whether the traditions of heterosexual relationships can simply be transposed onto homosexual relationships, although if you’re seeking a deep and nuanced exploration then look elsewhere; this is mostly frivolous stuff.
Brunger’s script is full of quips about labradoodles and your nan watching porn, and can sometimes feel like it relies on them a little too heavily to mask a lack of substance. This especially shows in what are clearly some updates to the references in the script – an exasperating gag about Apple TV stuck out as a particular offender. The writing does find moments of really juicy tension – a dinner party with all four characters was a notable highlight, in which Rafe and Pete try to maintain a lie that they’re unaware Andrew already knows is a lie. The script also moves at an excellent pace for the most part, although the final few scenes outstay their welcome a little.
The performances are also a mixed bag – Byam is radiantly energetic as Rafe but he and Blessie struggle to find chemistry, while Spaine’s aloofness teeters into an unengaged apathy a little too often. MacKinnon finds a lovely amount of depth in Andrew, with a standout performance at the aforementioned dinner party, and some very poignant moments with Rafe. The actors overall feel somewhat over-directed by Matthew Iliffe, resulting in an inauthenticity that makes it clear when someone’s been told to sit down or move across the stage or gesticulate in a certain way, which is a shame as Carrie-Ann Stein’s modern kitchen set design establishes a genuine domesticity so effectively.
Four Play ultimately feels like fast food theatre. Like a trip to McDonalds, you’ll go and you’ll have a good time, but there’s not much of a lasting impression and there’s nothing to really chew on.
“A well-acted piece in a fascinating venue, although I’m not sure that the play is quite ready to remove its water wings”
When you announce to folk that you’re off to see a play in a disused swimming pool, you get some funny looks. But here, in the depths of the new Tower Theatre building, the splendidly named Humble Crumble and Loitering With Intent theatre companies plunged in with Alice Birch’s Little Light in support of the Mental Health Foundation and that is to be applauded.
The story is of a family reunion that takes place at the same time every year in a house by the sea. The same people attend, the exact same meal is eaten, the same wine drunk and the same rituals take place at exactly the same point in proceedings. Married couple Teddy and Alison are the hosts with Alison’s sister Clarissa the other invited guest. When Clarissa turns up heavily pregnant and with boyfriend Simon in tow, frayed tempers snap and the whole gathering goes horribly wrong.
The set (Poppy Crumpton) had a simple wooden table and chairs, when Simon arrives and he is finally offered a seat, it is child size so that his chin sits on the table, a visual gag lifted straight from Ayckbourn’s Table Manners. There is also a square hole in the floor, with a stepladder leading down to a lower level which all actors negotiated most nimbly. The only backing sound came at random times with a weird vibrating noise and apart from Teddie saying “Can anybody hear that” was never fully explained. Lights (Hugo Dodsworth) faded in and out, but considering the title and theme of the play, I would have liked to have seen a little more creativity.
The audience were sat in a kind of ‘T’ shape and this presented a tricky problem for director (Shani Erez). Although the cast moved around well, you were so close to the performance space that I often found myself staring straight into the back of one of the actors. Performances were very strong; Teddy (Eoin Bentick) seemed highly unstable and you expected him to snap at any point. Alison (Hannah Madison) spat each of her lines out with a sarcastic venom and is not somebody that I would ever want myself to be in a locked room with. Clarissa (Hannah Donelon) seemed at first to want to be initiating change, but ended up almost seeming like the most manic of the lot. Outsider Simon (Keeran Blessie) looked like he was going to be cheery and positive, but ended up talking over people that he had never met before, as if he was one of the family. I would have liked to have seen a little more contrast.
Grief is a horrific trauma that we will all have to deal with and it is absolutely right that the theatre does not shy away from this subject. But ninety minutes of family squabbling, sentences not being finished and vicious vindictiveness can be difficult to sit through, whatever the reason. I wish that Little Light had found some space for a bit more light, as relief from the dark subject matter that we were dealing with. This may have helped you connect with the characters more and encouraged you to share their grief.
A well-acted piece in a fascinating venue, although I’m not sure that the play is quite ready to remove its water wings.