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Type: Theatrical performance / Story: Gina Gionfriddo’s play is a biting American comedy that enjoyed massive success Off-Broadway in 2009

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      21.02.2011 19:55
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      Very funny and very enjoyable.

      I first heard about this show when Haydn Gwynne (Billy Elliot/Drop the dead donkey) was talking to Claudia Winkleman about it on the Radio 2 arts show. Written by Gina Gionfriddo and originally staged in America, it is now showing at the Almeida theatre in Islington. I liked the sound of it, and immediately got myself a ticket. A good choice as it turns out.

      Synopsis:

      Newlyweds Andrew (Vincent Montuel) and Suzanna (Anna Madeley) arrange a blind double date with family friend Max (David Wilson Barnes) and co-worker Becky (Daisy Haggard).The date doesn't go quite as planned as there is a mugging and Becky turns out to be a very clingy personality. Underneath all this we have the sexual tension between different characters. We also get thrown into the mix the straight talking mother Susan (Haydn Gwynne), who is not afraid of shooting from her less than perfect hip. What doesn't help with the state of mind of many of the family, is the reasonably recent death of the father. This is reacted to in a variety of ways as certain 'facts' about the father come to light. The play ticks along revealing little inner secrets about all the individuals concerned, while blasting the audience with a barrage of one-liners.

      So what is it actually like:

      A lot of very mixed up individuals have a lot of intense conversations. That probably sums up what really happens quite well. Along the way we have a script that is intense, very funny, clever, with some interesting characters and ideas and the odd line that will stay with you for some time - 'Your husband is not the Red Cross. The last time he started consoling a cute, suicidal chick, he married her'.

      The performers:

      David Wilson Barnes as Max probably steals the show. Not only does he get the best lines, but in many ways he gets the most interesting character. He is the wise-cracking successful business man who gets things done, and has little time for those who are not on board. However, what feels like a cold character, softens as the play goes on as you realise the depth and intention of his motivation, and the fact that he has an apparent inability to commit. This is in part due to the writing but is helped considerably by the timing and the style of Barnes' delivery.

      Anna Madeley as Suzanna is pretty solid. Well as solid as a neurotic psychology phd student is likely to be. In terms of length of time on stage, hers is the biggest part, and indeed hers is the character on which all else pivots. At times I wasn't sure if Madeley was forgetting her lines, or playing the desperate and confused Suzanna with perfectly irrational timing. I am going to opt for the latter as it seemed to work.

      I wasn't entirely convinced by Haggard as Becky Shaw. The character of Becky Shaw is apparently inspired from Vanity Fair, and is an emotional wreck. This is given some texture, and it is difficult to love a character that is such an emotional tyrant. However, I didn't feel that Haggard delivered the inner strength and twisted satisfaction of this needy character to the extent that was intended.

      Haydn Gwynne was sour and superb as the mother who always seems happy to live a white lie, and even recommend it to others for the sake of surviving reality. Vincent Montuel was efficient as the soft husband who foils the other characters and allows them to shine.

      The setting:

      I have never been to the Almeida before and found it a cosy environment. It is a fairly small theatre (325 seats), and the small bench seating was certainly something I wasn't used to. The stage itself had a simple divider which turned around to fade in and out of scenes. Both the theatre and the sets seemed to be perfect for the show. The run is only on until Saturday 5/3/11 so if you want to go, you had better get your skates on. Ticket prices vary from £8-32, and the viewing angle is acceptable from pretty much the entire theatre.

      In Summary:

      Very funny, cynical and enjoyable, if slightly lacking in believability. Worth a watch.

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