Auld Acquaintance, Bread & Roses Theatre

Imogen and Jake are a trendy, young couple with a new born daughter. It’s nearly Christmas and they are at their mother’s house with Jake’s brother Rob and his wife, Natasha. Everything should be perfect, but it’s far from it: Jake and Rob’s mum is dying in a hospice, Imogen has fallen out of love with Jake whilst struggling with post-natal depression, Rob and Imogen hate each other but Imogen and Natasha are old school friends with an intimate secret.

This one act play by Natalie Audley, newly re-worked for London after a 2014 run at Brighton Fringe, still needs some refining. There are some killer one-liners and painfully spot-on insight on fertility and relationships, but an abrupt ending and wordy lines that uncomfortably stumble from the actors’ mouths give the script a weight that goes against it comedic instincts. The pace varies, but feels slower than it ought to. Audley clearly leans towards poetry and language-driven plays, but some trimming here and there would go a long way.

Performances are mixed and take some time to find their rhythm. Charlie Lees-Massey is by far the best of the cast of four as Natasha. Her moment of surrender to Imogen (Emily Ambler) is sexy as hell, and she maintains a consistent energy and believability throughout. Ambler’s best moments are with Lees-Massey, as are Tom Everatt’s at Rob. Matthew Corbett as Jake seems awkward throughout, though this could be a character choice. Director Courtney Larkin deftly moves her actors around the tiny stage without it feeling crowded or blocking sight lines.

There’s still a clunkiness to the script but further expansion and chiselling will refine the dialogue and turn this into a polished piece of contemporary naturalism. The issues presented are crucial ones to examine on stage, especially as they are told from a female perspective and with a 50/50 gender split cast, but more development is crucial to give them the power they deserve.

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