For The Sake Of Argument centres on a group of academics who spend their evenings deep in intellectual debate and rational thought. However, when Eleanor Hickock (Ashleigh Cole) discovers that her forthright opinions have played an integral part in a family’s tragedy, her ‘unchallenging authority of argument’, as she puts it, is tested to the limit and she is confronted with her own mortality.
Harry Darell’s play immediately introduces the main theme of his writing: the nature of language. This is presented through the young, purposeful soldier Mark Bradley (Georgie Farmer) whose humorous analysis of army stereotypes primes the audience for the multi-faceted narrative that ensues.
Soon after, we meet Eleanor Hickock, the smart, opinionated chair of the meet-up where she and her contemporaries (who share a dynamic akin to ‘frenemies’) have a battle of the minds and compete to win each debate. These sessions are hosted in the dying pub of the somewhat tortured and inebriated landlord Nelson (Greg Snowden), who views the discussions as a welcome distraction. We also encounter the jovially rebellious cleaner, Liz (Ella May) who spends far more time engrossed in the debates than on her actual job of keeping the establishment clean. It is a seemingly incongruent partnership on all sides, yet somehow these characters live in symbiosis and make it work.
In the second half we meet the rest of the Bradley family. The heart of the storyline is illuminated through this family’s struggle to desperately keep their world from shattering. It is in their presence that Eleanor’s robust beliefs are put to the test.
The set design by Amy Watts is striking. At first glance it appears to be a conventional naturalistic setting, until you realise the stage is covered in sand. The image is impressive yet jarring, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One can only speculate on the intention behind Watts’ concept: perhaps it suggests that intellectual gravitas serves only as a façade if there is no emotional foundation beneath, or maybe it is a metaphor for the characters’ decline as they sink into the quicksand of their mistakes. Either way, though an interesting element of the production, the sand does not enhance the play overall and I would be intrigued to see what the production would look like with a simpler design.
Running at over two hours (including an interval) this play feels too long, and the story could easily be presented in a shorter time frame. However, it is clear that Harry Darell is a talented writer. His ability to present political arguments in an accessible way is a real skill, as he communicates how the power of rhetoric can be a dangerous weapon in an unknowing hand. Mostly we are reminded that the messy reality of the human experience cannot be remedied by rationale, facts and figures; it requires compassion. And in this volatile climate, compassion is certainly something we could all benefit from.
Written, Directed and Produced By: Harry Darell
Presented by: Admissions Productions
Composer: Rohan Byrt
Booking Link: www.sbf.org.uk
Booking Until: 8 Feb 2020