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Emily Bowker as Emily, Graeme Brookes as Alan Kerry Bennett as Dawn and Alastair Whatley as Oliver.

Invincible

Malvern Theatres

****

TORBEN Betts is the name of a playwright we are becoming increasingly used to hearing. He describes his work as ‘entertaining tragedy’ and last night’s production of ‘Invincible’ fits that description well.

Invincible is entertaining, hilarious at times, very dramatic and ultimately invites the pity and fear that ‘Aristotle’ associates with tragedy.

Oliver and Emily, a somewhat typical London couple, unmarried but raising two young children, decide that life in the capital is too expensive, so they relocate to the north where properties are cheaper. They also want to live among ‘real people’. They invite the neighbours, Alan and Dawn, in for drinks one evening to develop relationships in the area, but the resulting clash of cultures is far from happy.

The tensions and conflict of values result in deep frustrations and griefs surfacing, that reveal the lostness and existential ‘angst’ of each individual. It also exposes the tensions within each couple. These characters are ultimately in great pain under the surface but cope with life in various ways, but those ways are ultimately not satisfying.

Torsten Betts has a brilliant capacity for writing lively and entertaining dialogue. He has also created some very believable, if slightly stereotypical, characters whose cinvincible midontrasts provide plenty of laughs.

Emily, whose lost child has created a deep emotional wound, is very political and anti-capitalist. Her partner, Oliver, is public-school, ‘posh’, a civil servant who generally tries to be very reasonable and well-mannered.

Alan is the postman who was a chef in the Royal Navy, he is fanatical about football and the English team, he loves his booze and is brash, blunt, aggressive and patriotic. Dawn, his wife, suffers for lack of meaningful companionship with her husband, she is slightly raunchy and looking for love, attention and comfort in the absence of her oldest child, a son in a war zone abroad.

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

The writer touches on many contemporary and relevant themes, political, social and environmental. Binge-drinking, capitalism, house prices, modern art, key political leaders like Blair and Thatcher -  there are abundant themes touched upon lightly. They provide scope for caricature, humour and some satire without becoming seriously political in its import.

Graeme Brooke's plays the role of Alan, the brash and garrulous football boozer. The character allows him to hold the stage and dominate the action frequently. He delivers this with tremendous energy and conviction.

Alastair Whatley is the more reserved and sensitive partner to Emily; for much of the play he tries to pacify her and accommodate the forceful feelings she has regarding her children, society and political leaders but driven by her underlying grief and frustrations. Towards the end he becomes more assertive and decided, something she confesses to find quite appealing!

The two women are delightfully contrasted and both Kerry Bennett and Emily Bowker give strong performances. Both have deep inner anxieties regarding children lost or endangered; both express the superficial traits of their characters convincingly but reveal the inner anguish effectively at the appropriate moments in the story.

The success of this show relies on the excellent balance of humour and emotion. I was reminded at times of  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with its aggressive exchanges and partner interactions.  It reflects the influence of Alan Ayckbourn, the show is supported by apt use of costume and musical selections that reflect effectively the characters in particular of Oliver and Emily.

This is cleverly written, it is directed, acted and produced with excellence. It deserves to play to fuller houses. To 18-06-16.

Tim Crow

14-06-16 

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