Flutter, Soho Theatre

by guest critic Maeve Campbell

Heading home from the Soho Theatre after watching Justin Hopper’s Flutter, it was striking to see crowds of people, mainly men, congregate outside the huge Hippodrome Casino that faces Leicester Square station. The detailed interior of the Grosvenor betting shop, immaculately imagined in the Soho upstairs space, had impressed, but felt rather distant from the location of the playing space. Now facing these worshippers to the church of gambling, it seems such snobberies were ignorantly informed. The play’s press describes it as “a love-letter to the high street bookies”. This love is a dark one though, rapidly told in this hour and a half melodrama.

Flutter is a confusing piece of new writing. There is little nuance in the script, which is not supported by its brevity. A great deal happens in the play, time jumps wildly and character arcs spike and then are neatly resolved within the blink of an eye. Hooper sets up the world of the play, a south London book-makers, as a haven for lost souls or those that just can’t quite get what they want from life. Hooper doesn’t allow time to create a sense of lethargy or boredom, which would support the more heightened dramatic moments. The work seems lacking in a confidence, ends up doing far too much in the time given and ends up feeling more like a soap-opera than the neo-kitchen sink realism it could have been.

Hooper’s clear sense of class politics is a refreshing change from the kinds of relationship dramas that dominates London theatre; for example, hit show Beginning at the National Theatre last year. However, wildly heightened stakes, far too neatly resolved, take up too much space here. Hooper doesn’t allow the play to be properly tragic and therefore forfeits political impact.

The ensemble cast are strong, albeit at times a little shouty, and appear to be having fun playing on the clear emotional lines drawn so deftly for them. Shango Baku’s Yankee Bob, a cheekily wise shop regular, particularly stands out. His portrayal is mesmirisingly subtle, often coming across like he’s in a different play, and demonstrates an expert comic timing that provides much needed light relief. The two women in the cast, Antonia Kemi Coker and Abby Cassidy, do well with disappointingly under-written roles. It is realistic that the women in this world exist to serve and facilitate male folly, but it’s rather irresponsible to rely on the obvious tropes that the play does to articulate the strains of their lives.

Hooper’s play has admirable intentions and a sincere heart. It would be more effective if we had followed these characters, who do have narrative potential, through a longer-form medium; this story could be told expertly as BBC television mid-week, serialised evening drama. The odds aren’t quite in Flutter’s favour as there is far too much going for hour and half long show. One leaves the theatre feeling a little cheated, wishing they’d put their money on a slicker horse.

Flutter runs until 16 June.

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