A review of Hannah Patterson’s Much at the Cock Tavern Theatre
Helen: Are you mad?
Helen: With me?
Tom: Would it make a difference?
Maybe’s it’s unfair to hold up a single line as illustrative of psychological implausibility, or indeed simple naffness, but, shucks, I’ve done it anyway. Mad? Personally I’d be completely grossed out. And I know I’m not alone on this ― I checked with my four flatmates. They all agreed; they would be totally grossed out too.
Would any of them, I asked, say ‘Would it make a difference?’ My weird flatmate (whose only relationships with women are conducted via the medium of online Dungeon and Dragons) said he might say something sulky like that, but then he doesn’t count. He’s weird and unsympathetic and crucially has never had a real girlfriend. Tom, by contrast, is meant to be at least normal, if not quite dishy.
Hannah Patterson’s first play has a fabulous premise: bringing your one night stand, from a couple of month’s back, to your dad’s wedding to your ex-girlfriend, really should offer a world tour’s worth comic mileage. Yet somehow, rather like the stream of champagne bottles opened on stage, this play lacks pop. Oedipus in Kilburn is genteel, tongue-tied and definitely not as sordid as the programme notes seemed to promise. How far would you go to get what you want? Asks the poster banner. Not very, comes the play’s apparent answer. In fact with half the cast planning to scarper to New York, it seems most people will go much further simply to avoid an argument.
This isn’t the fault of the slick production (both the music and lighting are excellent) or the very composed performances by an impressive cast. Roger Ringrose as Roy is particularly good, benefitting from perhaps the most coherent portrait and certainly many of the play’s best lines. Hannah Eidinow’s direction is also assured though the frequent stylized pauses sometimes works counter to the play’s mood, imposing a significance, and a seriousness, the dialogue rarely matches.
All of which is a pity, for though Patterson generally has a good ear, she has stumbled into any number of theatrical bear traps (discussions of art for example, with lines like ‘your work is so brave, so honest’ that instantly clobber the sincerity out of even the most sympathetic characters, alongside a few moments of inadvertent comedy ― no man, couch-bound, sulking at home in the dark, swigging Stella and listening to Radiohead has any right to expect not to get dumped. Although ‘We’re holding each other back’ is pretty good as break-up lines go. I have noted it.)
The apparent climax to the play arrives too soon; boxing in the plot and rendering the final scene, one of several flashbacks, more weightless than poignant.
Nevertheless there’s enough promise here to make this short play an interesting curiosity at this new and unpretentious fringe theatre.