4 stars ****
3 stars ***
One Hour Only
3 stars ***
Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)
A BRITISH SOLDIER returns from war in Afghanistan to brutalise the ex-wife and kids he says he loves. A girl in South London seeks solace for the death of her much-loved Dad by becoming a champion boxer. A client arrives to meet the prostitute he has hired for an hour, only to find that she is not quite what he expected.
And if those three situations sound like classic cliches of contemporary radio and screen drama, then their sheer familiarity goes a long way to explaining the slightly tired, televisual feel of the Old Vic New Voices season at the Underbelly, which – to judge by these three shows – lies quite a distance behind the cutting-edge of 21st-century performance. Cat Jones’s Glory Dazed – set in a pub in a northern town – is by far the strongest play of the three, featuring two blazing lead performances from Samuel Edward-Cook as returning soldier Ray, and Chloe Massey as his emotionally and physically bruised ex-wife. The situation is dramatic, the pace is brisk, the dialogue strong and credible; but even here, the arc of the play is predictable, covering well-worn ground on the agony of men traumatised by war, and unable to leave that ferocious culture of violence behind.
Charlotte Josephine’s Bitch Boxer is a completely charming monologue about a feisty, unusual south London girl who enjoys her boxing, and throws herself into it with renewed fervour when the single Dad who always encouraged her dies suddenly. The show has nothing new to say about anything much, from boxing to bereavement to the power of true love; but it floats along on the strength of Josephine’s huge charisma as a solo performer, and on the sheer physical vigour she brings to the show.
In Sabrina Mahfouz’s One Hour Only, a guy called AJ is strangely surprised to find that the prostitute whose services he has booked is not the exotic East European she pretends to be, but a forensic biology student called Marly. Instead of having sex, the two talk for an hour, about their dreams, aspirations and fears; there is one inspired and quietly erotic theatrical moment when AJ, a would-be civil engineer, shows Marly how to build a bridge with her own body. For the rest, though, the play consists mainly of unremarkable dialogue, irritatingly smart on her side, often inaudible on his; and if Mahfouz’s play wades briskly and competently into one of the most familiar situations in the book, it never quite succeeds in transcending it, and creating something brand new.
Until 26 August
pp. 281, 260, 306