Sunday, 23 June 2013

Theatre review: Hard Feelings

Unexpected pitfalls of putting on a play: If, as the audience enters, a TV on the set is showing Airplane!, even on mute, the audience may just end up watching and enjoying it, and be a bit resentful of the actors when they turn up and expect us to watch them instead. Well, this audience member might. The film is playing on video, rather a luxury I imagine as the year is 1981 and we are in the Brixton house owned by Isabella Laughland's Viv - or by her parents at any rate, living in America and letting their daughter live there to look after their investment. Viv shares the place with a few of her fellow Oxford graduates, although which of them exactly is meant to be a rent-paying resident at any given time is a bit vague, and subject to frequent change at her whim, or should she choose to take offense at something they say.

Doug Lucie's Hard Feelings takes place right in the middle of the Brixton riots but they're not its focus. Indeed, the whole point is the narcissistic young adults' ability to block out anything to do with the outside world, even when the sound of sirens is right on their doorstep.

Viv is joined by the vapid "artist" Annie (Margaret Clunie,) who appropriates Nazi imagery in her art without bothering to fully understand what it means. This doesn't exactly endear her to one of the more introspective housemates, Jane (Zora Bishop,) who is Jewish. Making his way around the women's beds is the preposterous New Romantic Rusty (Jesse Fox, who although technically covering himself up has aFULL-FRONTAL MALE NUDITY ALERT!from certain angles due to an obvious lack of shyness.) The final member of their circle is Baz (Nick Blakeley,) constantly being described as "too nice," but in fact too weak to break away from Viv's circle of influence and stand up for what's right.

Although at the moment they are constantly protesting their poverty, Hard Feelings is a play about Thatcherites in the making, and as such suffers from the affliction that some plays about unlikeable characters often do, of it being hard to give a shit what happens to them. The more positive characters are essentially doormats, which is undoubtedly in keeping with the 1980s ideology Lucie is exposing. The only opposing voice with any fire is the outsider, Jane's boyfriend Tone (Callum Turner,) a budding journalist whose excitement at the riots' start isn't just about getting a story - soon he'll be throwing bricks at the police himself.

This is one of those productions with a lot of strong elements that still don't exactly hold together as a whole. There's some very astutely observed moments, like the absurdly posh, forever sponging Rusty declaring that they now live in a classless society (a rather prescient turn of phrase, that.) In among their self-involved flatmates, Bishop and Blakeley as the more self-questioning characters are particularly good. But director James Hillier, in his first full-length production, hasn't really nailed the pace, which falls flat a lot of the time. I think this may be partly because although Turner is very pretty, his voice as Tone is quite monotonous, and his diction could be better.

Mixed results here, then. Hard Feelings is of course intentionally showing us an unlikeable group, the sort of people who would probably be yuppies a couple of years down the line. And their working-class nemesis' motivations are never fully fleshed out, making him little more than a mouthpiece of the left-wing viewpoint. So it's hard to care about what we're seeing, but there are excellent, powerful moments that rise out of it as well.

But a Milli Vanilli album? In 1981? I think not, props department!

Hard Feelings by Doug Lucie is booking until the 6th of July at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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