Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Theatre review: The Leisure Society

A French-Canadian black comedy of marital boredom, The Leisure Society looks at the kind of people who have everything but are still miserable (not to mention the kind of people who live in a mansion with a pool but insist they're "not rich.") Peter (Ed Stoppard) and wife Mary (Melanie Gray) have a year-old son who still cries constantly, and are trying to quit cigarettes and alcohol to help them cope with looking after him. They've invited recently-divorced Alpha-male friend Mark (John Schwab) round to dinner, where they intend to friend-dump him. Mark turns up with much-younger fuck buddy Paula (Agyness Deyn¹) however, and events take a different turn.

The characters in François Archambault's play are hard to like, and initially at least I felt the same about the play itself. Jeremy Coney's lighting is harsh to the point of making you squint, and to begin with Harry Burton's production is poorly blocked, with the audience at the sides (surely over 50% at Trafalgar 2) looking at people's backs a lot. This sort of thing means the play has it all to do to get me on side, and despite decent performances it took me a while to know why I should care about these people. Some of the blocking issues improve as the show goes on, and I think I gradually tuned into the play's sense of humour because I warmed to it more as it went on. Though not laugh-out-loud funny there are good moments of vicious humour (with Gray particularly good) as well as one very dark observation from Peter that I found uncomfortably familiar.

Stoppard gives the best performance; though you still wouldn't want to know his character in real life he brings an awkward charm to the most thoroughly lost of the quartet. Of course anything would be an improvement on his epically dislikeable Upstairs Downstairs character; it's ironic that someone known for playing such a cold fish on TV is the one to bring warmth to the stage here. I still found something hollow at the heart of the play, and its structure of short scenes with frequent blackouts got irritating after a while, but in the end it comes together enough to make it worth the trip.

The Leisure Society by François Archambault, translated by Bobby Theodore, is booking until the 31st of March at Trafalgar Studio 2.

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes straight through.

¹I have no idea how it's pronounced so I make it rhyme with "vagina stain." Because if you're enough of a hipster to change your name to Agyness Deyn, then you should face the consequences.

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