the paty

Invincible

Birmingham Rep Studio

*****

TORBEN Betts is an incredible new writer. His script is fresh and delves right into the heart of what theatre aims to explore and discuss.

He is of his time and gives a representation of everyone’s social attitudes today. With the slick direction from Christopher Harper, Invincible becomes a raucous evening looking in between the lines of socialism and talking the issue of class head on.

Betts’ current piece is a literal representation of what we see in in the Emily and Oliverworld around us. With austerity and bleak politics, it is clear that the divide between rich and poor is becoming more prevalent within our culture. Betts literally splits the class divide in half in this production and shows us the lives of Emily, Oliver, Dawn and Alan. The story is set in a quiet and friendly street in the North of England, although this would have been fabulous set in Birmingham in conjunction with a Midlands audience.

Emily and Oliver are used to comfortable London living. As a compromise to Emily’s hard socialist views, a move away from their privileged and easy-going habitation was the best thing to do in order to live with ‘real people.’

Emily Bowker as Emily and Alastair Whatley as Oliver. Pictures: Jack Ladenburg

The action takes place in their sophisticated and extremely tidy looking living room. As a gesture to get to know their neighbours, Emily and Oliver invite their neighbours around for the evening which turns out to be a night fuelled with olives and pistachios, but lacking alcohol.

When Dawn and Alan arrive to the pitiful house party, Emily and Oliver are shocked but the audience howl with laughter. It is hard to believe that two polar opposites can be alone in the same room together for an entire evening, but this conflict and social clash makes way for a hilarious outcome.

While Emily is modestly dressed in a long shirt that she made herself, Dawn shows up in bright pink heels and an even brighter red dress. Alan however did not arrive at the same time as Dawn. The England match was still playing and he could not possibly turn up until it was finished. When Alan did eventually arrive, we saw a cuddly bear dressed in a gloriously patriotic kit of the English football team, after an ironic conversation as Emily and Oliver were discussing how much they hated country flags hanging outside people’s houses. Black outs were used to show Dawn and Alan’s arrival which surprised us with larger than life images.

The audience see each couple’s judgemental reactions in a blatantly obvious manner, but the characters hide behind social niceties for their opinion’s to actually be said in the open. This is what makes Betts’ script so delightful to watch. The audience can relate to an encounter with someone so totally unlike themselves, and Betts reflects our feelings back to us through the couple’s interactions.

The first half of the play is gloriously funny, seeing the couples getting to know each other and bonding over Emily and Alan’s shared love of painting. We saw a scratching of the surface in the first half, laughing at their quirks and individual thoughts. The second half is also beautifully done, helped by Betts’ script that contained nothing but high stakes and nail biting scenes. Their union comes with the dreadful emotion of grief, each couple having lost a child, through different circumstances.

The excellent cast do well to allow the audience to see the effects of social change that is happening right now. Dawn is played by Kerry Bennet who is the embodiment of the people who have seen the hardest shift in governmental change. Playing the part-time receptionist and mother to a child she had as a teenager; Bennet gives a down-to-earth performance and is the character we learn the most from. Alan embodies the majority. A classic man you’re likely to meet in the pub, it seems that nothing can change his jolliness and love for life and family.

Struggling as a postman, Alan keeps the hope that as long as he has Dawn, his life could not be better. Graeme Brookes is surprisingly a local actor hailing from Walsall, but his mastery of the Northern accent has the audience thinking otherwise. There is truly nobody better to play the loving and open Alan, which makes the play harder to watch as we see his fall during the second act. Bookes is the heart of the humour.

The strong and feisty Emily is played by Emily Bowker and nothing will stand in the way of her well informed opinions. Emily makes her voice heard and is often misunderstood by everyone else, especially her husband Oliver. Bowker is a fantastic Emily and although we see her reservations to begin with, Bowker shows the utter despair of a woman in grief and reveals what is underneath the hard exterior in a beautiful manner.

Alastair Whatley embodies the bumbling middle class Oliver with equal excellence. As a man who prefers cricket to football and a million miles apart from Alan, we see him finally speak up and break out behind the shadow of his opinionated wife by the end of the play.

Betts poses the query that although we may see the struggle of others outside of our social realm and indeed empathise, we will never truly understand what it is to live in their social category, no matter how much we are willing to learn. With great actors and a strikingly beautiful set, Betts shows us that class is a structure that will never leave us. In the programme, he states ‘I bet you a tenner you know someone just like Alan, Dawn, Emily or Oliver. Are you like one of them?’ To 21-05-16.

Elizabeth Halpin

18-05-16 

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