Southwark Playhouse – until 9 October 2021
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Uptight and organised Rupert (Huw Parmenter) describes the story of the day he met uninhibited Alex (Gemma Lawrence) and their relationship. Cordelia O’Neill’s clever and witty script reveals in the latter part of the play that we are not the true audience for Rupert’s story telling as the couple deal with life changing tragedy.
The early stages of the relationship are sweet and funny, with lots of embarrassingly real awkwardness. When Alex finds out she is pregnant, she is convinced that the baby will be a girl and arguing over the name seems to take priority over more practical preparation. The horror of the baby being stillborn is portrayed with gut-wrenching simplicity and clarity, while the aftermath is signalled beautifully by the way their characters interact in early scenes. These are two people who love each other passionately, but never really listen to each other or compromise – hiding behind humour when things get tricky. After the death of their son, they talk, but don’t communicate. Alex is consumed with grief and guilt – unable to shake the idea that the baby died because she hadn’t got everything ready for his birth – and begins an unending mission to decorate the baby’s room. Meanwhile Rupert deals with the practicalities but can’t even say their son’s name.
Cordelia O’Neill has created charming and recognisable characters and their reactions to the tragedy are very real. Big belly laughs are scattered amongst the heartbreak, and there is no magical solution for the couple, just the slightest glimmer of light shining through the darkness of their grief. Director Kate Budgen maintains a brisk pace, pausing just enough on the devastating moments without halting the momentum of the narrative. Parmenter is sweet and funny as Rupert, making his eventual emotional breakdown even more hard-hitting. Lawrence is charmingly spiky as Alex in the early scenes, and absolutely devastating as the grieving mum.
This exquisitely balanced play is an honest and searing portrayal of grief and life after tragedy but is also laugh out loud funny.