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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Seven Year Twitch
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2013

David Lewis has written an Alan Ayckbourn-style comedy that is, funny on the surface with a hint of sadness beneath. But in this case it is more like alternately funny and sad on the surface, the two tones fighting for our attention and taking turns dominating. 

So we get about half a play's worth of comedy and half a play's worth of drama. Each half has merits, but neither is wholly satisfying. 

Fran and Terry are married, but he's a birdwatcher more interested in finding his 500th bird than in his marriage. Ben is Fran's boss and interested in being more. All three are seeing one or the other of two psychiatrists, Charlie and Megan, and at least half the play is devoted to their sessions. The two shrinks themselves have a history though Megan is currently more interested in Charlie's wife Karen. 

Confused? Essentially everyone in the play, including the two psychiatrists, is screwed up, and the shrinks compound the various problems by giving screwed-up advice to the others and interpreting everything in psychological jargon. 

There are some very funny moments, particularly in the second half, when various parties, confused by the shrinks, either act, react or interpret another's actions comically. There are also some potentially touching insights about how married couples can drift apart or how a therapist's own problems can be dumped on a client. 

But the funny bits come too slowly and too far apart to sustain a comic air, and the serious bits are too undeveloped to carry much leavening weight. As I said, you don't get a blend of comedy and drama, you get half of a satisfying comedy and half of a satisfying drama. 

By its nature, comedy manipulates its characters to push them toward the laughs, but you may be more aware here than in most others of the characters doing or saying unlikely things just to fit the playwright's scheme. 

(There's no real reason, for example, for Megan to be a lesbian, and Ben is almost forgotten by the play for long stretches, just to be brought back onstage when needed for a quick laugh.) 

Faced with this, and with the repeated switching between comic and serious, the actors have difficulty creating and sustaining coherent characterisations, and you are more likely to admire the very visible hard work they put into the challenge than their accomplishment. 

Serving as his own director, David Lewis makes the comic moments funny and the sad moments touching but can't make them part of the same play. He's also uncomfortable in the Orange Tree's in-the-round structure, repeatedly planting actors with their backs to half the audience for whole scenes.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Seven Year Twitch - Orange Tree Theatre 2013  

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