Sunday, 9 December 2012

Theatre review: Pack

Straight on to the Papatango winner, which this year is Louise Monaghan's Pack. We're in a community centre in Leeds (Olivia Altaras has designed a set that serves both this and Everyday Maps For Everyday Use well) where maths teacher Dianna (Denise Black) evidently doesn't get enough teaching in her day job, so holds a class on bridge for beginners in the evenings. Her students are Deb (Angela Lonsdale,) a brash widow who's gone up in the world since collecting her husband's life insurance; Stephie (Sarah Smart,) her slightly dim-witted friend; and Nasreen (Amita Dhiri,) a doctor Deb seems a bit sniffy towards at first. As we get to know the women in the ensuing weeks of card-playing, their outside lives start to encroach on their new friendships, as a BNP rally approaches and the politics of the women, as well as their husbands', come under the spotlight.

Louise Hill's well-acted production helps deal with a couple of pacing issues in what is otherwise another strong new play for the Finborough. As the players' discussions turn away from bridge to their personal lives, we see Nasreen treat Stephie's disagreement with her husband's BNP membership as just another of those differences between couples, on a par with her being a Muslim with a Hindu wine importer for a husband. But this laissez-faire attitude is challenged when Stephie's 14-year-old son is suspected of viciously beating an Asian boy, and Nasreen finds her friend's defence of her son's character hard to deal with. If Monaghan's view of the unseen men, whether husbands or sons, seems pretty pessimistic, her play does, despite its often dark subject matter, have an optimism about women's friendships and their ability to endure trials and tribulations.

All four actors give strong performances, Smart having to put across a character who's suppressing a lot of information and emotions under her mousy exterior, and she has a nicely complex relationship with Dhiri's Nasreen. There's a parallel relationship between the businesslike Dianna and the in-your-face Deb. It's a good job Denise Black is very likeable as her character's tendency to play armchair psychiatrist and have to be the ultimate authority in everything does grate (and she does eventually get called out on it, a bit.) In terms of how the story plays out I found Pack to be a bit uneven, with lulls at a couple of the earlier points as the background information on the women goes off on tangents, and then an overly loaded ending: The last ten minutes see far too many plot revelations bundle in on each other's heels.

Had it been up to me I might have reversed the order of the top two plays in the competition (Tom Morton-Smith's play delved, I thought, into less frequently explored waters and did so well) but Pack is also a satisfying piece of theatre.

Pack by Louise Monaghan is booking until the 22nd of December at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes straight through.

No comments:

Post a Comment