Invincible at St James Theatre – quite dark in places, excruciatingly funny and beautifully observed.
Presenting the interactions between a middle class ‘guilty liberal’ couple and their ‘real’ neighbours in an unspecified Northern town, where they have been required to locate for economic reasons, the writing explores bourgeois neuroses of the London pair and sets them up against the hard drinking football culture of their new neighbours. Cue awkward silences, misunderstandings and the choice between expressing polite platitudes and speaking as one finds with brutal frankness.
It’s what we Brits do best – a modern day comedy of manners, and in this case, a social and political comment also, being set in the post- Blair economic downturn, bringing in many of the current topics of conversation of education, corporations, banks, art and – the appalling results of the England team.
Interwoven with the wit and strained devastating humour, thread tales of tragedy and desperate sadness, and personal entrapment either through class and circumstance, low self-esteem or through guilt and over-developed social consciousness.
Human longings and failings are laid bare, and the audience alternately laughs or weeps with the characters’ different revelations, as the backstories bring to light the twists and turns in the events that shape their reactions.
Sometimes the structure and forced symmetry of the two couples’ circumstances felt a little contrived and creaky, and the apparent exposure of an affair was not entirely clear whether it was meant to be true or simply an attempt to make a partner jealous. Neither of these slight reservations impeded the great enjoyment of the piece, however, and the cast (Daniel Copeland, Laura Howard , Samantha Seager and Darren Strange) were impeccable in drawing fully rounded characters with hidden depths and emotions.
The transfer from the Orange Tree’s theatre-in-the-round staging to St James’ end-on structure is interesting to observe. The set (Sam Dowson) works well, though occasionally there is still a feeling that the actors have kept their moves from the Orange Tree’s production, continuously moving round so all angles can be viewed, when sometimes the tensions may be more greatly enhanced by moments of stillness.
Although still not quite two years old, St James Theatre is occupying an important place in the London theatre scene, providing a stepping stone between fringe and/or regional venues to test the waters in central London, with some productions making transfers to the West End. This presents opportunities not only to the creators of smaller scale works, which all too often find themselves with no further life due to the paucity of funds and suitably sized central performance spaces, but also for London audiences to see works both from out of town and high quality smaller scale pieces, providing valuable alternatives to the large commercial shows and subsidised sector. It is also offering a certain number of £10 tickets for this production to those who may not otherwise afford the usual ticket prices.
Long may it continue.