The Bread and Roses Theatre 30 August – 3 September. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Jonathan Stephenson’s play sets out to examine “the human condition, mourning, grief and what tragedy can do to someone’s soul.” Which sounds cheerful.
Happily, the play starts off on a light note, with cheeky chappy Ed (Jonathan Stephenson) popping round his ex Verity’s (Hannah-Jane Pawsey) flat after a nice curry hoping for a drink and afters. Ed and Verity haven’t seen each other for two years, after what appears to have been a particularly nasty breakup following the failure of his business and the terminal illness of her mother.
It doesn’t take Ed long to thaw Verity’s attitude towards him, and the constant shift between awkward pauses and comfortable mickey taking is mostly well written and has an authentic feel to it. The action moves back in time to just before the breakup, and the cracks in the relationship are made clear, although there is still lots of dark humour, and debate about the merits of a good curry.
After the interval, there is a complete shift in tone and Verity has a very long and dull monologue – a letter she’ll never send to Ed – before the action returns to the present time. Verity’s monologue signposts the “shock” reveal in the final scene more clearly than most notices on the M25, meaning that the actors have to work very hard to maintain momentum towards the low key ending.
Both actors give committed performances, not shying away from the less appealing sides of their characters, and have an interesting onstage chemistry. The problem is that Stephenson’s characters are, on the whole, recognisable and sympathetic at the beginning of the play, but return after the interval as miserable, self-pitying and slightly boring versions of themselves. At least Ed’s reaction doesn’t provide a neat and tidy ending, providing something to talk about as you leave.
Stephenson’s writing shows promise, but the structure of the play feels a bit muddled, with some confusion about what it’s trying to be. The same can be said for Ed – a Sun reader who is constantly patronised by Verity for his ignorance – who often uses language and references that, although funny and helpful for the plot, just don’t sit right. It’s as if Stephenson cut a third character and tagged their lines onto Ed’s role, creating a slightly schizophrenic feel at times.
Ruby is a brave attempt at tackling difficult issues, but it’s nowhere near as deep as it thinks it is. More of a korma than a vindaloo.