Parents always want what is best for their offspring. That’s a pretty fundamental fact of life really. For most parents, it’s fairly simple. Keep the sprog safe and warm, send them to school and provide a safe haven for them as they learn life’s various lessons before they are ready to stretch their wings and fly the nest. However, things are different as Jack has a learning disability. In these cases, Parents not only need to do everything above but will also try and provide as normal a life as possible for their youngster, even if this means doing things they themselves are not entirely happy with. This idea forms the backdrop to Sarah Page’s one-act play Punts at Theatre503.
In a very nice West London house, a young lad is getting ready for an important night. Jack (Christopher Adams), a young man with learning difficulties, is getting dressed with the assistance of his mum Antonia (Clare Lawrence-Moody) and the two of them are discussing the evening’s plans. Antonia goes over the arrangements with Jack again to make sure he fully understands what is going to happen. For tonight, Jack is going to become a man. Antonia and Jack’s father, Alastair (Graham O’Mara), have arranged for a sex worker to come to the house and introduce Jack to the world of lovemaking. Jack is sort of looking forward to it – with the same nervousness men all over the world have the first time – after all, he will now be able to join in the sexually charged banter with his rugby friends. Alastair has some misgivings about the enterprise but when she arrives, Julia (Florence Roberts) turns out to be nothing like his image of a prostitute. She is attractive, intelligent, and articulate and has a real understanding of the job she has been employed to do this evening. After the awkwardness of handing over the money has taken place, Julia goes upstairs to meet Jack and everybody’s life changes from then on.
Wow, this is a good play. Punts author Sarah page has interviewed several sex workers and the play is a result of those conversations. This really shows through the honesty and believability of the story and the characters themselves. The narrative itself is full of humour and moments of really moving emotion as the eighty-five minutes running time shoots past. All four characters are extremely well written and easily identified. The hen-pecked, slightly repressed husband to the professional housewife who wants to be, and in fact is, in control of everything. The mother willing to do anything to support and protect her son, whatever it takes. The worldly-wise prostitute, able to assume any role and fully aware of the way that men can be seduced. And the boy, who wants to be a man and wants to live a normal life but who recognises his own limits and the way he is viewed by the world around him. This is writing at its absolute finest.
Put the writing together with this cast and you have a production that should be winning awards hands down. Christopher Adams is just knock out as Jack. This was character acting at its best as Christopher made Jack a lively young fellow with a real personality that shone through in his time with both his mother Julia. And speaking of Julia, Florence Roberts plays her heart out in this role. Julia is, I suppose, a consummate actress – being whoever her clients want her to be – but making every part she plays seem very real and Florence pulls this off beautifully. There is a wonderful chemistry between Julia and Jack that leaves you wondering if Julia really does have some form of feelings for Jack or whether this is part of a role she is playing for him. Switching to the parent, Claire and Graham are really the ultimate middle-class married couple as Antonia and Alastair. There is a lovely line that Alastair says to Julia when discussing his relationship with Antonia “we skipped the fun years and fast-forwarded to middle-aged” a wonderful sentence that sums up Alastair’s life and the situation he is in. As with Julia, Jack has a lovely chemistry with his parents both separately and together. Overall, this is such a highly talented group of actors that seem to really inhabit their characters superbly.
Jessica Edwards’ direction feels nicely naturalistic and Amelia Jane Hankin’s quite minimalistic set works extremely well as the bedroom and kitchen. I also loved the scene transitions with the outline window frame and the square around the top and bottom of the stage lighting up in what felt like a subtle metaphor of the characters each being trapped in their own box.
So, as you may have guessed reading the above, I absolutely loved Punts. This was a show that tackled a horrendously difficult subject but did so with style and panache. All the elements – writing, production and acting – were perfectly aligned to produce a great piece of theatre that I thoroughly enjoyed and would happily recommend to everyone I know.
Review by Terry Eastham
Jack, a young man with a learning disability, lives at home, cared for by his devoted parents. Like most men in their twenties, he has needs – his mates at the rugby club talk about nothing but getting laid, whilst Jack’s most erotic experience to date is the time he was winked at by the pretty cashier in Lloyds. Desperate for their son to not feel left out, his parents Alastair and Antonia decide that they should to bring in a professional. But Julia, the prostitute they hire, has a far more profound impact on the whole family than they could ever have imagined.
Writer: Sarah Page
Director: Jessica Edwards
Producers: Holly Hooper & Stuart Slade
Designer: Amelia Jane Hankin
Sound Designer: Owen Crouch
Lighting Designer: Dan Saggars
Production Manager: Will Herman
Stage Manager: Annabell Arndt
Production Assistant: Laura Sedgwick
Kuleshov Theatre and Theatre503 present
by Sarah Page
Directed by Jessica Edwards
Supported by the Unity Theatre Trust