Exposing the reality of divisions between the North and South of England and between the social classes of the 21st Century, Torben Betts’ new play is razor sharp, very funny and moving. Emily (Laura Howard) is the sort of woman who should have been strangled at birth; she is nagging and self-centred, continually spouting all the loony left theories that have driven Socialism into disrepute. She decides to move from London to live amongst “real people” in the North, dragging her ineffectual husband Oliver (Darren Strange) and two children in tow. Their new neighbours are Alan (Daniel Copeland), a fat, beer-swilling football obsessive who could bore for England and his blowsy wife Dawn (Samantha Seager). The stage is set for hilarious culture clash comedy as Oliver comes to realise that he does not fit in and that education in a state school that seems like Borstal is not good enough for his kids; he decides that he must assert himself against Emily, firstly in defying her left wing principles by joining both Facebook and the Labour Party in the same week and then by starting the ball rolling for a move back to Highgate. Betts’ writing constantly reminds of Alan Ayckbourn at his peak, being bitingly comedic and acutely observant, but also embracing much darker themes. The economic downturn looms large for these families and, for all their coarseness, we are not allowed to forget that Alan and Dawn are the people who send their sons to Afghanistan. The play’s impact is heightened by a quartet of superb performances, making all the characters totally believable. Playing near the River Thames in Richmond, the production drew howls of laughter, but it would be interesting to see if it would have the same effect in, say, Rochdale. In any event, it deserves a much wider audience.
Performance date: 5 April 2015