There’s something reassuring about a realistic kitchen set with actors preparing real food on it. Louie Whitemore has designed a lovely example in the Arcola’s main space, which includes a stove on which a pan of soup steams comfortingly. But such rustic charm is scant compensation for what turns out to be a distinctly unnourishing play.
In Jack Shepherd’s new drama, former art journalist Chris (David Sturzaker) and his wife Anna (Jasmine Hyde) have upped sticks (presumably from London) and are trying to make a go of self-sufficiency at a country house. So far, so The Good Life.
Neighbour Peter (James Clyde) is a widowed former artist who pops over a lot and may have the hots for Anna, but not in any particularly demonstrative way.
Anna is preparing for a dinner party when old soak and former artist Elvira (Maggie Steed) turns up to revisit the scene of debauched long weekends from her youth. Her motorcyclist mate, former musician Zak (Michael Feast) arrives later, which is considered a startling enough dramatic beat to constitute the pre-interval cliff-hanger.
Anna, by the way, isn’t a former artist or musician or journalist. She’s not a former anything at all, as far as we know, and functions merely as cook and hostess. It’s an old-fashioned depiction of a woman’s place, but then this is an old-fashioned play through and through, despite its title.
In the second part, we migrate efficiently outside and there are a succession of chats about modernism in the art world which could have taken place at almost any time in the last century. The actual period of the play isn’t specified. It feels 1980s/90s, but with contemporary cigarette packaging alongside the reliance on landline phones.
As the talk goes on, the hope that something more dynamic might happen to perk the play up dwindles and dies. The actors are fine, with Sturzaker bringing a hint of darker waters to his portrayal of a dissatisfied man whose escape from a previous life may not be all he dreamed of. But that’s as profound as the characterisation gets – the rest is just middle class small talk in a production that seems to be aiming for a flavour of Alan Ayckbourn but falls sadly short.
Written and directed by: Jack Shepherd
Produced by: Arcola Theatre
Playing Until: 21 March 2020
Box Office: 020 7503 1646
Booking link: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/the-cutting-edge/