Mike Bartlett’s new play takes us through the heady carefree days of 60’s free love to late 80’s “money, money, money, me, me,me”, to the comfortable retirement of the two protagonists Kenneth and Sandra.
This was an enjoyable and funny play. Ben Miles and Victoria Hamilton as Kenneth and Sandra, showed us their evolution from carefree teens to relaxed retirees. It was a bit of a stretch of the imagination to think of them as 19 as they claim in Act 1. The wigs used throughout were excellent, but I do wonder if having different actors in each act may have worked better? I’m also never really convinced when actors claim to be acting stoned on stage, it did veer off into 60’s clichés I felt. However the act did set the scene and I looked forward to seeing where life would take them in Act 2.
Between each act music was played setting the scene for the era we were going into. Again I plead with the Royal Court, please turn your music down!!! I’m not some old codger but the levels they play it at, both upstairs and downstairs in numerous productions are actually uncomfortable, I’d like to be able to talk to people I’ve gone with during the intervals. Perhaps it’s their not so subtle way of driving out their patrons into the bar areas?
Act 2 opened with George Rainsford as Jamie dancing around the 1990 living room the stage had now become to loud music (excusable now as it was part of act) . This brought a smile to my face, as I would have been Jamie’s age in 1990 and I also remember prancing about my families lounge to the Stone Rose’s She Bangs a Drum. Sad but true. This act grappled with Kenneth and Sandra dealing with being hard-working middle class parents of teens. It also brought up the infidelity of each of them and we saw their relationship start to crumble.
Another interval (with loud music – grrrrr) and at this point I was enjoying myself but felt this play was really lacking in pace, I was hoping Act 3 would not let me down.
Act 3 takes us to the large and sunny living room of a country house (The Royal Court as ever, excels at totally transforming the stage between acts – Lucy Osbourne was the designer) Here we find Kenneth enjoying his retirement (of £65,000 a year) which he feels he deserves. He and Sandra have long since split up, but it appears to be amicable. This act really delighted me. FINALLY I’ve seen on stage an issue that has been totally ignored for the last decade (Alex Sierz in his book Rewriting the Nation observed this issue had been absent in theatres during 2000-2010). What is this “issue”, well it may be “very middle class”, but it’s a key issue for anyone of my generation – The amount of money required to buy a house or even get on the property ladder.
We see Rosie challenge her parents about it, their response is not to help her out, but rather berate her for complaining. She will have to resign herself to the fate many of my generation have, we’ll only own a property when our parents die. This wasn’t an “issue play” though, it came from the strong characters Mike Bartlett portrays, but I was so pleased to see home ownership of 25-40 year olds being raised as something that does provide dramatic conflict between children and their parents.
As Rosie points out to her parents:
“You didn’t change the world, you bought it, privatised it. What did you stand for? Peace? Love? Nothing except being able to do whatever the f*&k you wanted.”
It also had a tragic note in this act. Rosie has “followed her dream”, encouraged by her parents and yet this has not provided happiness to her. This was a sobering revelation and actually an acute observation from Mike Bartlett. As for a great many following your dream does also require sacrifices and there is a price to be paid. Is telling your child to “follow their dreams” responsible parenting? This is one question Mike Bartlett poses to us.
I like the way by focusing on one couple over the last 40 years we see a range of issues and how decisions made in the past affect the present. It is not some cerebral boring play though, it’s full of humour, strong characters and heart-felt issues. Alas it doesn’t offer any easy answers, but that’s because there aren’t any.
STARS * * * *