The Theatreguide.London Review
Park Theatre Autumn 2013
Playwright-actress Rosalind Adler has come, a bit belatedly, to the discovery that gender roles are in a confusing flux these days, and has written a pleasant little comedy to illustrate that.
A couple in their fifties, played by Adler and Crispin Letts, are wrestling with an unconventional marriage. She is the breadwinner, working twelve-hour days in marketing or something – her husband has never been quite sure – for a six-figure salary, while he is a writer who hasn't had a success for twenty years.
He becomes convinced he's pregnant, while she develops a taste for submissive bondage. He cooks while she does a bit of carpentry, and they take turns back-seat driving when the other is at the wheel. Finally, through an unconventional route they find their way to the most conventional of ways to re-establish roles they can be comfortable with.
Through a string of short blackout scenes author Adler offers us snapshots of the emotional and identity confusions her couple live with, while actress Adler and actor Letts, guided by director Kirsty Bennett, keep the whole bit of fluff anchored in a reality that reminds us, without spoiling the fun, that these are real people just trying to muddle through.
But if you look back at that list of plot events you'll see the play's one failing. The playwright's scatter-gun method keeps the audience off balance and too often unsure where we're supposed to be directing our focus and sympathy.
For a long time it seems that the male pregnancy is the central plot and that it's going to turn out to be miraculously true – whoever designed the show's poster seemed to think that – but it is abruptly dismissed as a fantasy, discarded and forgotten. The husband is the first to seize the stage and our sympathy, so it takes a while for us to realise that the wife is meant to have an equal claim on our attention.
Sympathy Pains is barely fifty minutes long, and while a full-length play could let us wander about and take our time finding its centre, this one can't really afford too much time with us looking in the wrong directions.
Still, it gets where it's going eventually, and offers about as many laughs as a good TV sitcom with a little more emotional weight than most.
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Review - Sympathy Pains - Park Theatre 2013