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Generation Games at the White Bear Theatre

A play need not necessarily be set in a living room to create a living room ambience, but it helps. In the first of two plays in this double bill, A Certain Term, Graham (Luke McGibney) is expecting a few long-standing friends to pop around for a party, though the narrative doesn’t, to the best of my recollection, get as far as drilling down to informing the audience precisely what the party is actually for, other than that Graham and his friends “convene annually”, global pandemics aside. Do they ‘convene’ in the interim? Does Graham always host, or do they have a rota of some kind? Given the light snacks and nibbles on offer, are they expected to have eaten beforehand?

Charlie Ross MacKenzie and Joe Ashman in Generation Games.
Charlie Ross MacKenzie and Joe Ashman in Generation Games.

In the second play, I F—-n’ Love You, Adrian (Charlie Ross Mackenzie) and his boyfriend Simon (Joe Ashman) are expecting nobody: they are sleeping in the spare room, apparently because their actual bedroom still reeks of fresh paint. Except they’re not sleeping, because, if anything, that wouldn’t exactly make for intriguing theatre (even if I recall the first series of the UK version of Big Brother during which I would watch the contestants have a lie-in whilst I was having breakfast and watching the live feed). On one level, the topics of conversation in both plays are relatively benign: Graham fusses over wine to the point where he feels it necessary to rush out and buy a particular variety he just so happens to have run out of, while Adrian wonders whether he and Simon should get themselves a dog.

It is necessary, somehow, even if it comes across as more than a little contrived, to allow the audience to get to know the characters. For instance, Adrian says Simon has said nothing about a certain series of events, which opens the door for Simon to provide further particulars to him, and thus to the audience. That Joe (Simon Stallard) isn’t initially recognised by Graham is itself a good tactic to introduce the character fairly quickly, and the technique is repeated when Robert (also Ashman) visits, as he isn’t known to Joe.

In both plays, the dialogue does so well to come across as largely naturalistic. The trade-off is that some of the witty punchlines come across as pre-prepared remarks. These are not, thanks to some committed acting, nearly as artificial as jibes made by Government ministers in the House of Commons whilst reading from a sheet, and in the end the audience’s reactions and responses suggest that playing to the gallery is a gamble that pays off.

The shows are briskly paced: the second half, I initially thought, felt a little dense for what was essentially a late-night conversation. There are those deep and meaningful discussions that go on long after people’s usual bedtime. And then there’s the one Adrian and Simon have, encompassing, amongst other things, Bucks Fizz, urinary incontinence and previous partners. Despite substantial disagreements, which do help to maintain interest, the feeling that they will be okay is never far away – as will Graham in the earlier play, who achieves a closure of sorts over a previous chapter of his life.

Neither play shies away from stereotypes – Graham has borderline curmudgeonly responses to Joe’s grammar and phraseology (none of it irritated me). Simon checks messages on his smartphone whilst the older Adrian scribbles into a notebook. Refreshingly, strong language, while present in both plays, is never overdone, and it’s good to see contemporary shows whose characters are given a wide vocabulary. Perhaps there is more that unites the different generations highlighted in these plays than divides them. Charming without being sentimental, and comical without being sidesplitting, the gentle humour makes for a pleasant and satisfying experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Generation Games
Two one-act comedy-dramas about Life, Love & Loss

A Certain Term
by Michael McManus, directed by Bryan Hodgson
“It’s not dying young that’s an offence against nature for a gay man, you know. It’s growing old. We become invisible.”

When 40-something Graham is approached by 20-something Joe in a gay bar, he little imagines how profoundly his life could be changed by this brief encounter – especially when a mysterious visitor appears from nowhere, closely connected with Graham, yet uninvited, unexpected and alarmingly indiscreet. How can lost souls find one another – and how can we learn to heal and to let go?

I F—–n Love You
by Charlie Ross Mackenzie directed by Ed Applewhite
“We just take it for granted. All of it. Floating from one day to the next. Trying desperately to shake off that shadow called regret. Running away from it so fast that we never stop to look around us.”

There are those nights, those perfect nights, when the world is put to rights, you look into the soul of the person closest to you and connect with their humanity. Well this isn’t one of those! Simon and Adrian are getting ready for a good night’s sleep. Trouble is, sleep is difficult when you’re on the sofa bed and prone to overthinking things. As they uncover many things thought forgotten, dealing with fidelity, death, weak bladders and Bucks Fizz, this will be no easy night’s kip.

11th – 22nd April 2023
https://www.whitebeartheatre.co.uk/

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