Reviewed by Ruthie Luff
You never know what you’re going to get with a double bill, but People Like Us and Happy Never After are a pair of new, fantastic plays!
People Like Us, written by Jake Brunger, opens with a young couple preparing for dinner guests in a room filled with antiques, arm chairs, and crystal from centuries ago. In one of the more sensibly sized rooms in this grand estate, Clemmy (Sammy Kissin) nervously sets the table and insists that her husband, Tom (Nicholas Banks), be on his best behaviour when her brother Josh (George Taylor) and his new girlfriend, Sally (Leah Brotherhead), arrive. What follows is exactly what you would expect: a mixture of first impressions, suppressed opinions, small talk, too much talk, inappropriate talk, and all while eating cheese and sipping wine. Everything comes to a halt when Clemmy forces Josh to recognise the financial crisis and personal burden of their family’s estate. They hash it out while Sally and Tom observe – making their own set of judgements and interjections. With no parents in the picture, there’s nobody who can stop the siblings from fighting. When everything is off of everyone’s chest and on the table, it’s time for the lamb.
Brunger’s subtle and sarcastic writing was expertly delivered by the cast. Everyone revealed the contrived way people behave when they meet someone new. George Taylor, as the trendy patronising Josh, is engaging from the start. Likewise, Leah Brotherhead comes across very genuine in the role of Sally. Brotherhead really shines when she puts her manners on hold and stands up for herself. She won’t let people prejudice her just because she’s a nail salon owner from Essex.
Sammy Kissin stood out in the role of Clemmy. She masterfully conveys the humour and heart ache of a woman whose family loyalty sucks the happiness out of her young life. She was equally met by Nicholas Banks, as Tom. Banks gave us just the right amount of ego and creep – he really has a talent for making awkward situations that much more awkward!
What I really loved about this play were the fine, fine details. The simple task of pouring wine became at one moment hilarious and at another moment nerve wracking. It’s a dinner table you’ll want to sit around, and you really should go and see it. Kirsty Patrick Ward and her cast definitely know how to captivate People Like Us.
When we came back from the interval, the grand country estate that we saw in People Like Us had dissolved into a tiny one bedroom flat for Happy Never After. The Stage Space at the Pleasance is a great venue. The exposed barn-like beams and tiny stage space adapted brilliantly for both plays.
Happy Never After won me over from the start. The play is simply about Jen and Neil’s relationship. I’m just going to say this now: you need to watch this one. It’s a whole lot better than any chick flick. The play provides snippets of the highs and lows of a couple’s life together. The biggest low being when Jen faces a scare with ovarian cancer. The prospect of having no kids becomes a devastating turning point in their relationship, pushing the couple further a part over time. But with deflated dreams, these two fight to be together no matter what.
Hannah Rogers has written a beautiful and hilarious new piece that takes the audience on a whirlwind of a journey without leaving them behind. We are giddy with Jen and Neil at the beginning, and we worry with them at the end. It’s so refreshing to see a real love story.
Luke Sheppard staged this piece with precision. The flat was entirely comprised of boxes and brown wrapping paper. Everything was packaged up apart from the one green sofa. Each new phase in the relationship was marked with some kind of adjustment to the set. The sofa must have come with an instruction manual, as it transformed into a whole slew of set pieces – a couch, a bar, a train booth, a sun bed, a hospital bed. Sheppard definitely knows what he’s doing.
The rapid dialogue and silly banter between Jessica Ellis and Liam Mansfield was very well done. They played the sad moments with sensitivity and the happy moments with horrible dance moves. Everything about this piece was captivating and genuine. Mansfield’s character, Neil, at one point says, “that moment you realise we aren’t invincible…. is shit.” That really is the case for Jen and Neil. When happily ever after is not that likely, when life deflates their dreams, it really is shit. With this new play, you can expect a solid dose of real life. But don’t worry, it comes with a spoonful of sugar.
James Quaife Productions
21 – 30 of November 2012
StageSpace Studio, Pleasance Theatre, Islington
People Like Us
Written by: Jake Brunger
Directed by: Kirsty Patrick Ward
Happy Never After
Written by: Hannah Rodger
Directed by: Luke Sheppard
Photos: Jonny Bosworth