There really is more than a hint of Abigail’s Party to Sérgio Roveri’s In the Heat of That Night, which sees itself at The Space following the cancellation of Vault Festival. In fact, massive praise must go to The Space (and many other venues) who have found slots in their schedules for so many affected shows.
Sue (Hannah Douglas) and Mike (Blake Aidan) are very much the suburban couple, desperate to impress their visiting friends Henry and Dorothy. You do get the feeling there is a touch of jealousy towards them though; after all, it appears Henry has the better job, nicer car – even a rather expensive coat.
Oh, and the other important thing to mention is that Henry and Dorothy are imaginary friends, only visible to Mike and Sue. It appears the two couples have been friends for a very long time, because Mike and Sue seem to have created some very detailed back stories for the fictional pair. It is all, well, rather bizarre, and a great device for the real couple to air their little squabbles and dislikes about each other as they play at being happy hosts whilst their marriage could well be on the rocks. Their behaviour at times is so bad even the imaginary guests are made to feel uncomfortable!
This concept is both amusing and well played. Thanks to deft stage management from co-directors Andrea Lavio and Mateus Monteiro, plus great timing and lovely chemistry between the two actors, the laughs keep coming. What could very easily become a tired joke by the midway point is in fact notched up further: the four of them dancing is superb, as is the comedic timing of our real actors as they look on in both amazement and disgust at what their imaginary friends are up to on their new rug. The attention to detail is marvellous, not just in ensuring imaginary toes aren’t trodden on as they step around each other, but also in how Mike and Sue admire invisible coats before hanging them up, compliment Dorothy on her new hairdo and even provide an ashtray for Henry’s imaginary cigarette.
Unfortunately, much like the intangibility of the friends, I struggled to quite grasp what the play was aiming to say, other than that domestic bliss may not always be quite what it seems. The play makes nods towards climate change but it feels slightly under-developed in that respect even though the references are plentiful, with talk of constant heatwaves and water rationing. There is an interesting moment when babies are discussed and Sue ponders whether it is right to bring someone into a world where in 100 years things could be even worse than now, but this comes across as more of an aside than an essential moment of the play.
Meaning (or lack of it) aside, In the Heat of That Night is an amusing and well-presented play, casting a lovely light on a couple who are struggling, not just with the heat of the day but the burden of real life. The visual gags more than make up for any uncertainty over what the play wants to say to the world. In fact the visual comedy is what make this play so worthwhile. So much so in fact that it would have been mean not to call Henry and Dorothy back at the end to take the audience applause.
Written by: Sérgio Roveri
Directed and produced by: Andrea Lavio and Mateus Monteiro
Set and costume design by: Flavio Graff
Lighting design by: Ros Chase
Sound Design by: David Hewson
In The Heat Of That Night plays at The Space until 2 February. It will then be available for a further two weeks on-demand. Further information and booking via the below link.