Thursday 29 February 2024

Theatre review: Out of Season

Back to Hampstead and this week I'm Downstairs for its latest commission, Neil D'Souza's Out of Season and a midlife crisis comedy that gently takes in some themes you don't often see on stage. Thirty years ago, a trio of university friends went on a memorable holiday to Ibiza. Now, to celebrate his 50th birthday, Chris (Peter Bramhill) has asked that they recreate the trip - right down to the same room in the same hotel. Regardless of how many times he and Dev (D'Souza) say it's been done up since they were last there, the grubby walls and fading paint of Janet Bird's set suggest both the fact that they might have unrealistically romanticised their original holiday, and that they, like the room, have seen better days. Once in a band that came within sight of success only to miss their chance, manchild Chris still plays gigs in pubs, while Dev has become an academic and music historian, grumpily putting himself through a week he didn't really fancy for his old friend's sake.

The third friend has actually stayed and thrived in the music industry as an LA executive, and while he's promised to turn up the others doubt that he will. Michael's (James Hillier) arrival doesn't come until the second act, and when it does it brings a different, darker energy to the group.

But first we have comic scenes as the two men hit it off with a couple of women from Hull on their annual trip to the island; older than most of the revellers by the pool but still younger than the men, Holly (Kerry Bennett) and Amy (Catrin Aaron) bring a different, mature but fun dynamic. The fairly short, funny first act comes with a lot of witty dialogue and some broader comedy - including Chris getting caught tied to the bed with phone charger cables and Dev getting a Dvořák tattoo. There’s a pleasing naturalism to both D’Souza’s writing and Alice Hamilton’s production – the characters feel real and recognisable without that taking away from the comedy, and Aaron’s Amy is a particularly well-drawn presence.

There’s still a lot that feels real in the second act, but it takes on a more threatening edge. One thing that struck me coming out of Out of Season is that although we’ve seen these kinds of unequal, bullying male friendships in drama before, often with the edge of racism and homophobia that we get here, what feels different in this play is the (entirely accurate) framing of it as an abusive relationship. Both Chris’ continued subservience to the dominant Michael and Dev’s attempts to escape the toxic dynamic build up to a satisfying climax, with the two women now representing an alternative way forward with their lives and ambitions.

With even the rendition of the band’s almost-successful single feeling very authentically like a catchy ‘90s guitar song, Out of Season isn’t flashy but it’s well-constructed at every turn. Balancing comedy and drama to the end, D’Souza brings us through a story that’s always got a melancholy undertone of encroaching age and lost opportunities, while never giving up a sense of hope

Out of Season by Neil D’Souza is booking until the 23rd of March at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes including interval.

Photo credit: The Other Richard.

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