Hampstead Theatre Autumn 2018
American Lauren Gunderson's play is a sweet little romantic fable. You won't believe a minute of it, but you'll want to believe, which is almost the same thing. If Gunderson ultimately drags you too far from reality, you'll be with her in spirit for most of the journey.
A teenage boy and girl meet-cute. She's an invalid awaiting a liver transplant, while he desperately needs help with a homework assignment on nineteenth-century American poet Walt Whitman.
The first half of the play shows him pushing through her defensive scepticism, while the second half watches them both getting enthusiastically caught up in the assignment, the poetry and their attraction to each other.
Both characters are much more literary constructs than real people. Once you spot that there is a frightened little girl hiding behind her mask of kookiness, there isn't much more to her, while he is a university admissions officer's fantasy, a star basketball player who plays the saxophone, reads poetry and listens to modern jazz.
If neither is real, both are attractive enough for us not to care. Because we want to believe there are teenagers like this, we choose to for most of the play. And the playwright surrounds them and dresses them up in lots of real-sounding detail, like the teacher who sends assignments by e-mail without realising that no one under thirty uses that medium.
Gunderson has a good ear for the way adolescents who simply don't have the words to express or even feel their feelings stumble their way toward some sort off instinctive connection if not actual communication (though without the almost tic-like use of obscenities as meaningless space-fillers that characterises real teenagers).
And she tells us a story we would like to believe, about how they might find in the words of a great poet a way of thinking and saying what they only half-realise they want to think and say.
A supernatural element enters the play toward the end, much to its detriment. For all their originality, the final plot twists have the feel of cliche and cop-out.
And even worse, they have the effect of negating what was the play's greatest strength, its ability to win us over to its sentimental portrait of too-good-to-be-true teenagers.
Sensitively directed by Edward Hall, newcomers – she has done television but not stage, while this is his first job – Maisie Williams and Zach Wyatt do a fine job of making us care and almost believe. And we get to hear a lot of Walt Whitman.
Receive alerts every time we post a new review
Review - I And You - Hampstead Theatre 2018