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Virgin, Watford Palace Theatre – Review

E V Crowe
Directed by Joe Murphy

Pros: An excellent all-rounder which creates tension and climaxes beautifully.

Cons: The ending felt a little contrived.

Our Verdict: Virgin expertly elucidates work-a-day stress and the struggle for empowerment in modern day UK with guts, gusto and grit.

Credit: Robert Day

Virgin is part of the Ideal World Series at Watford Palace Theatre; a series about the impact of the digital world. Virgin looks at a couple in the country who are seeking to find empowerment in their lives through their roles as househusband and career woman.

The main crux of the storyline is Emily (career woman, wife and mother) wants to bring fibre optics and the internet to her part of the world.There are two strong themes – empowerment and the cultural difference between those who have grown up with the digital world and those who haven’t.

Living in London, it’s easy to forget just how much access we have to everything. This play excellently shows how different environments are evolving in different ways. It also illustrated to me something which I didn’t expect – there aren’t many plays set in the modern countryside. Those that I have seen are either antiquated or filled with stereotypes.

Challenging stereotypes is another fascinating element of this production. There is clearly tension between the two main characters, a husband and wife. She commutes to London and is fighting for recognition and promotion. She is starting to live a very different life from her husband who, once an odd-job man, now looks after their young daughter and keeps house. He sublimates his desires totally to support her, who in turn doesn’t recognise the things which are important to him because he doesn’t share the same daily stresses and values.

It’s a very well meted out relationship and E V Crowe, builds anticipation excellently as we’re just waiting for something to snap. In both their roles they are seeking empowerment and I have never seen a play which so magnificently highlights the actual real-life stress, hatred and frustration of working life. Plays which have meaty issues which people are justified in caring about (like death) can make one feel unjustified to care that your boss is being rude to you. By capturing modern stress this play is actually empowering for the audience member.

The other characters in the production were archetypes. They were the embodiment of everything that is frustrating about their function in the play with no redeeming features or way to understand them. It didn’t feel stilted but it did move the play from being totally naturalistic to more symbolic in interpretation. The marketing consultant was obnoxious, rude, selfish and loudly dressed. The colleague was sleazy, overbearing, misogynistic backstabbing and blokey. It is the same for the characters we hear about but don’t see. The interpersonal tension between them and the protagonist are fraught and utterly excellent.

The setting was expert. A very solid looking cottage setting was instantly transformed in to a train with strip lighting descending from the ceiling. Day, night and setting were projected on to what I had originally assumed was dead-space above the cottage set. The jangling of my nerves was helped with music designed to increase the cringe factor.

The ending felt contrived. I wont say much more than that so as not to spoil it, but there is no resolution or commentary on the two main themes – empowerment or digital cultural diversity. The events are resolved but there is no emotional or intellectual commentary in the way the story is wound up. Just a lingering and unfulfilling sense of continuing which didn’t feel intentional.

Virgin expertly elucidates work-a-day stress and the striving for empowerment in modern day UK with guts, gusto and grist. With jangled nerves, slick set changes, and a delightful yearning, you’re invited into a very non-London lifestyle which is pretty satisfying and strongly reflective of the disparate values which are being built around the digital age.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Virgin runs at Watford Palace Theatre until 19th October 2013 as part of the Ideal World repertory season. There’s a trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nV5yaZx1-s4
Box office: 01923 225671  or book online at: http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk/page/3087/Book-Online

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