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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Orange Tree Theatre  Spring 2014; St James Theatre Summer 2014

As a programme note reminds us, playwright Torben Betts has two dominant modes, epic historical dramas and Ayckbourn-like exposures of the sadness beneath domestic comedy. Invincible is of the second sort, and if both its satire and its pathos are a bit scatter-shot, it still has more than its share of comic and touching moments. 

A middle-class London couple are driven by the recession to a more economical life up north but bring all their values and habits with them. 

She is an uncompromising radical in a constant quiver of rage against Tories, banks, big business, New Labour (and Tony Blair in particular), polluters, Tesco, the rest of the middle class, most of the working class, and the neighbours' cat. 

He is more modestly liberal, trying to get along in the real world and in this troubled marriage even if it means compromising to the point of not standing for anything. 

They meet their neighbours working class, crude, conservative, patriotic, salt-of-the-earth good people and much of the first act is devoted to the surefire comedy of the culture clash, with virtually none of the four able to say anything without setting one of the others off.

But as we learn more and the characters become less satiric types and more rounded human beings the comedy is tempered somewhat. 

Both husbands adore their wives but have been frozen out by them, both wives are mothers grieving after the fact or in anticipation of losing a child, everybody carries a private guilt for sins real or imagined, everybody wrestles with the image of failure and a wasted life. The laughs don't disappear, but they become blended with sympathy. 

Keeping the play from complete success is the fact that both Betts' satiric targets and his sympathetic insights range so widely that the play is in constant danger of losing focus like the middle class wife, it sometimes seems to be against everything and like the husband it sometimes seems to want to forgive and embrace everything, leaving unclear just what, if anything, its judgemental position is. 

If its overall stance is unclear, the play is successful in almost every individual moment. When it wants to be funny about This it is funny, when it wants to be funny about That it is funny, when it wants to be serious about This it is effective, and so on.

If you don't ask for too much continuity or consistency in the Thises and Thats, you can have a very entertaining evening. 

Laura Howard and Darren Strange (host couple) and Samatha Seager and Daniel Copeland (neighbours) all navigate the play's tonal changes and shifts in subject admirably, guided by director Ellie Jones.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Invincible - Orange Tree Theatre 2014

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