Home » London Theatre Reviews » Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre | Review

Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre | Review

Jack Hunter (John) and Emily Barber (Jess) in Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
Jack Hunter (John) and Emily Barber (Jess) in Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

The opening scene in Cost of Living goes on for some minutes, with Eddie (Adrian Lester) giving a lengthy preamble to interval-less proceedings. I started to wonder if this was actually going to be a series of such monologues, from which the pieces would somehow come together. This wasn’t to be, and a later meeting between Eddie and Jess (Emily Barber) came across as rather contrived to me, however much both (separately) protested that they only met – for the first time – because their regular Friday night routines were substantially disrupted.

Eddie’s wife, Ani (Katy Sullivan, who, according to the show’s programme, competed “in the Paralympics in ambulatory track at the London 2012 Paralympic Games”), is a paraplegic thanks to some sort of accident, and therefore needs assistance with certain tasks. Perhaps understandably, Eddie and Ani don’t really discuss specifics about the incident between them, with the knock-on effect being that their dialogue doesn’t reveal details for the audience’s benefit.

Completing the set of on-stage characters is John (Jack Hunter), a doctoral student with enough income to be able to hire Jess as his carer. It eventually becomes ambiguous as to who is really looking after whom – perhaps Eddie and Ani, and John and Jess are looking out for one another. One thing is for certain: these are people who are having to fend for themselves. The action is set in New Jersey, but that isn’t the only place where thoughts of ‘Government? What Government?’

This being a play that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, there are moments of intensity and complexity – and sometimes what isn’t said ‘speaks’ volumes. There are pauses, some of which are very long, which slows the play down considerably and gives it a steady pace overall. It is, for a twenty-first-century play, rather too slow for me at times (or perhaps there are too many other contemporary plays that rattle along too quickly); but it is, both in staging and in dialogue, incredibly naturalistic. There are interruptions, awkward gaps in conversation, and characters speaking over one another.

I must admit that there is something quite refreshing in both Ani and John having their ways of telling it like it is – sentimentality is not only discouraged, it is positively crushed. When John asks Jess to come over in the evening in addition to her regular daytime shifts, she misinterprets what he means by this. Having made the effort to dress up for the occasion, Jess ends up rather deflated after John makes it plain that he requires help with getting ready for a date with another student. In an earlier scene, Eddie tries to cheer up Ani by playing upbeat music, though the choice of song was irritating, and it is no wonder Ani responds curtly.

Jess, meanwhile, lives an almost frightening if entirely believable existence: articulate and university educated, not only is she not in a graduate-level job, but she is (without giving too much away) nearly on the breadline. The real shocker, though, comes when Ani’s sheer vulnerability and dependency on others comes to light in a bathroom scene. The set (Michael Pavelka) is impressive, with slick scene changes and excellent weather effects, even if it seemed to rain more in New Jersey than it does in London. A strong cast tackles a gritty and engaging script with vigour and conviction.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

John, a wealthy, brilliant, and successful PhD student with cerebral palsy, hires Jess, a recent graduate who has fallen on hard times, as his new carer. Across town, truck driver Eddie attempts to support and re-engage with his estranged wife, Ani, following a terrible accident that has left her quadriplegic. As four very different lives collide and entwine, roles are unapologetically flipped, reversed and exposed – who is actually caring for whom?

Martyna Majok’s exquisitely original, honest and deftly funny new play explores our need to connect and be loved regardless of the gulfs that disability, race, class, and wealth place between us.

ARTISTIC TEAM
WRITER – MARTYNA MAJOK
DIRECTOR – EDWARD HALL
DESIGNER – MICHAEL PAVELKA
LIGHTING – MATT HASKINS
SOUND – PAUL GROOTHUIS
COMPOSER – SIMON SLATER
VIDEO DESIGNER – IAN WILLIAM GALLOWAY
CASTING – SUSIE PARRISS CDG

CAST
EDDIE – ADRIAN LESTER
JESS – EMILY BARBER
ANI – KATY SULLIVAN
JOHN – JACK HUNTER

Booking to 9th March 2019
https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Author

Scroll to Top