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The Theatreguide.London Review

Kiln Theatre   Winter 2019-2020

There are some very entertaining moments in Mike Barlett's play and some that raise thought-provoking moral questions. But they don't seem to be part of the same play, and nor does much else.

Playwright Bartlett and director Clare Lizzimore seem to have difficulty sustaining from scene to scene any coherent tone, characterisations or philosophical positions.

This is a play that devotes the first act to establishing sympathy for a character, and the second to tearing it down. It is a play in which each of the three characters take turns accusing the others of being cliché representatives of all that is bad about their generations, and then take turns demonstrating that the others' charges against them are accurate.

And it is a play in which all the charges, all the righteous indignation, all the soul-searching and soul-exposing are negated in the final minutes as we are reassured that all anyone really wants is a Christmas-spirit group hug.

The first act is an uninterrupted monologue by a middle-aged white man – each of those words will turn into charges against him before the play is over – anxiously awaiting a reunion with his estranged daughter.

As he thinks and frets aloud, we get the backstory along with a sense of his emotional confusion, in a portrait that is both sad and comic, and certainly sympathetic.

And then two other people join him. I won't give away any surprises, but just say the play's mode shifts to charges and countercharges among the three, with the common pattern being everyone's complete blindness to their own culpability while self-righteously castigating the others for theirs.

The play's strength lies in its exposure of the ways the characters are indeed trapped in generational mindsets that support an unjustified sense of righteousness while making them unable really to hear each other.

Its weakness lies in the fact that, with every character locked into a moral position, the play refuses to take one, so that as eventually everyone becomes unsympathetic, we don't know what to feel about any of them.

(It doesn't help that the play keeps slipping into the banal – the argument that generated the whole plot was about that dreariest of topics, Brexit.)

And then the clumsily tacked-on happy ending implicitly says that none of it really mattered and we were foolish even to try to work out who was right and wrong.

The three actors – Elliot Levey, Amber James and Ellen Robertson – struggle to make rounded individuals out of what the play repeatedly says are just typical representatives of their age or gender, and to sustain our sympathy when the play repeatedly exposes each character's blindness or hypocrisy.

Gerald Berkowitz

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