STEP 9 (OF 12)
by Rob Hayes.
Trafalgar Studios (Trafalgar 2) 14 Whitehall SW1A 2DY To 26 May 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 871 7627.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 May.
Tension and comedy in compacted drama.
If everything progressed smoothly, the title of Rob Hayes’ new play would mean events started not in the middle but three-quarters through a process. There’s certainly a lot gone on before the start, explaining why Keith is being visited by an older couple, Alan and Judith, in his shabby bed/living-room, and why he sits upright, smartly dressed, ready to make a strong first impression.
But Hayes soon makes clear, linear progress isn’t inevitable in human lives, and if Keith is, as he says, seeking their forgiveness for events when he was living with them, he does so in strange, disturbed ways. The back-story that unfolds steadily throughout the 75 minutes’ playing-time combines brittle humour from Blake Harrison’s tall, slim Keith and affability from Barry McCarthy’s Alan – McCarthy’s experience in Ayckbourn serves well as he tries to rationalise and explain both Keith’s ways and his wife Judith’s tense, suppressed anger.
Comedy’s mixed with a slightly out-of-sight menace, an unexploded bomb behind a cupboard door, until the final scene, which takes matters a new way. It’s skilfully paced, and the demands for forgiveness from Keith contain an assertive blame. Alan and Judith (who must have had wonderful resilience to combine their work with Keith and a demanding day-job) react in opposite ways, his flexibility contrasting her suppressed fury and clear unwillingness to be in a room with Keith.
The humour of a superior sitcom is increasingly infused with dark tension. While it’s playing it grips attention. Overall, though, it can feel slight – like the core of a larger drama.
It’s immaculately performed in Tom Attenborough’s well-paced production, which balances the humour and menace contained within different forms of uncertainty. Harrison looms over the others, violence implicit in his manner – he’s on an alcoholic’s recovery programme, but seems nowhere near Step 12 of 12 – and in the crisp-clean clothing he’s put on.
McCarthy’s Alan accepts what’s on offer, has a suitably effortful joviality, but ends cowering, trying to protect Judith. There’s no let-up in the suppressed anger and strained expression in Wendy Nottingham’s performance. And the final scene comes as a real shock.
Keith: Blake Harrison.
Alan: Barry McCarthy.
Judith: Wendy Nottingham.
Mark: Ben Dilloway.
Director: Tom Attenborough.
Designer: Francesca Reidy.
Lighting: Neill Brinkworth.
Sound: Victoria Wilkinson.
Fight director: Bret Yount.
Assistant director: Alice Hamilton.