A slide show and a winning central performance take us through a decade in the life of Nick and Helen in an honest, thoughtful, if over-long play, set in an attic. Not for lovers of Anne Frank.
It’s not so much there’s too much information. It’s the weight of detail that oppresses me. The communications revolution means that nothing is too trivial to recall and record: from baby’s first step to a moderately satisfying bowel movement – it’s all fair game for display and, inevitably, comment. In such circumstances, the idea of a couple reliving their relationship through a private slideshow seems positively quaint and there does seem an old-fashioned quality to Nick and Helen’s recollections as they pass their Saturday afternoon going through old memories in the attic
Indeed, it’s hard to place the couple in time, despite their constant references to such an event being ten or seven or three years ago, a confusion compounded by Helen’s listening to what appears to be 80s goth popsters Echo And The Bunnymen. The narrative, on the other hand, is quite straightforward. Nick and Helen have been together for a decade, having met as partners of other people. During this time they have lived and loved, visited relatives’ funerals, suffered terrible sunburns and become parents to a son, now three. At Nick’s insistence, they look through a series of out-of-order slides kept in the attic that depict moments (and hairstyles) from their time together, while his sister Isabell plays babysitter. Clearly something has happened to change the relationship – Isabell seems to be packing as well as minding the infant – and it’s something neither of them seems capable of addressing.
Joe Orton once wrote that British theatre in particular seemed obsessed with mystery.This seems generally true, not just of the staged Christies and Durbridges coming to a Theatre Royal near you, but also of the works of Rattigan and Pinter. There is the unspoken transgression, the harrowing event, the family curse that somehow chains our protagonists to a wheel of suffering.As often as not, catharsis comes with the revelation of the dread secret. However, the point of a mystery is that it has to be mysterious and sadly, in this case, I’d worked it out within five minutes of sitting down and had it confirmed within fifteen.
It’s a failing that I suspect writers Florence Vincent and Lizzie Bourne were more than aware of while scripting their trip down memory cul-de-sac, which explains why they’ve made the details so vague. However, in the absence of a viable mystery, the show is left to rely upon the strength of its dialogue and the skill of its performers. Here, Nick (Paul Brotherson) is all winsome smile and floppy fringe, still a boy pretending to be a man. He is also the one clearly most affected by the mysterious event, given to sudden mood-swings and rages at interfering sister Isabell. It’s a combination that could easily become annoying were it not for the bemused and amused portrayal of Helen by Daisy Badger. In a performance belying her youth, she is the heart and soul of the play, making what could have been a smug stereotype into an empathetic and genuine character.
Despite the transparency of their plot-device, writers Vincent and Bourne have created a well-observed and emotionally affecting piece that had this reviewer welling up at the thought of his own young sons. It’s arguably over-long, the “incident” is gone back to too often without any further revelation, and one finds oneself echoing Helen when she urges Nick to get to the next slide but it’s an honest and funny look at a modern relationship that doesn’t go into too much detail.