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Most of us may have opinions about whether, when and how we should intervene, as a nation, in other countries’ business – opinions that are probably easier to arrive at since we don’t have to make the decision. But what if the problem is small-scale and on our doorstep? What if we hear fights and the woman who lives next door appears with bruises? What if the couple come from a different ethnic and cultural background? When and how do we intervene?
This is the question posed by Tamsin Oglesby’s new play. Here Sophie (Lorraine Burroughs) and Max (David Michaels) are middle-class liberals busy installing an eco-loo and discussing solar panels. Their enthusiasm for self-sufficiency even extends to growing their own cannabis. And Sophie likes to get her vitamin D by sunbathing – nude – a practice that does not go down well with the more conventional Ali (Jonathan Coyne) next door.
Max’s defence is that Sophie can do what she likes in her own property, a response that comes back to bite him when he later confronts Ali about the goings on in his house.
As the fights become harder to ignore and Ali’s pregnant wife (Badria Timimi) turns up with a black eye, Max and Sophie agonise about what to do. When Max finally intervenes, things take a turn for the worse. Was he wrong to interfere? Or did he do so the wrong way? Should he have acted sooner?
Painful questions, and Oglesby emphasises their broader implications by writing the play in verse and making it a black comedy, so giving it a heightened, fable-like quality.
This is a bold move, but it becomes rather self-defeating. The script is stilted in places: too often you are just waiting for the rhyme – “it’s too late for that polemic ... it’s obviously endemic” – and the arguments between Sophie and Max don’t ring true, which detracts from the urgency of the situation.
The cast in Nicolas Kent’s edgy production handles the style well, though. Coyne’s Ali is superbly intimidating, and the moments when he turns up the stereo and rolls up his sleeves are quite sickening. But in spite of the awful vividness of these scenes and the undeniable importance of the play’s issues, the style ultimately dilutes the impact.
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