Coincidence is a handy tool for a playwright. Unfortunately, in Gemma Mills McGrath’s Reunions it is tested to destruction and it’s our credibility that snaps. Ok, so a couple of former lovers – man jilted at the Church – meet after 21 years. No problem with that. But two couples, nay three couples, doing similar in the same bijou hotel bar on the same evening exceeds the plausibility quota and thus becomes a fundamental flaw in the play.
In essence these are three dramatic vignettes that ought to stand separately with short intervals between each – and apparently, originally they did – but the attempts to draw them together as one piece are clunky at best and
completely untenable at worst putting unnecessary cumbersome restraints on the three interesting explorations of former relationships. Combining the original triptych, the programme tells us, provides three sets of “interlinking characters”: just like Heathrow and Gatwick are “interlinked”- i.e. it’s a bit of a trek to get from one to another and you try to avoid it if you can.
The first couple are the wedding-mishappers Janey and Eddie. Janey has written to Eddie to ask him to meet her at “their” hotel after 21 years as she has something to tell him after all this time. Heaven knows what that might be. Her Eddie-substitute husband drank himself to death and Eddie is now happily-ish married. They’re pretty ordinary and uninspiring which makes their reminiscences rather mundane and lacking any real excitement. Sure Janey likes a glass of Pinot or few and Eddie is a number-whizzing accountant but meet them in a bar and you’d probably be looking for the first excuse to make a strategic retreat. They are really not that interesting. Mufrida Hayes (Janey) does her best to inject some verve into the banal and insipid dialogue whilst Jonathan Oliver as Eddie has a real penchant for sotto voce: unfortunately, his voice is so sotto at times as to be inaudible even in the intimate 503 studio space.
The next couple are former gay ex-lovers, Danny and Jack. Moving on from their idyllic younger life Danny got married leaving Jack as another jiltee. We are now at the wake for Danny’s wife and Jack is a reluctant attender. He decides that the celebration of the life of his former lover’s dead wife is an excellent opportunity to rekindle their long lost relationship. As you tend to do at a wake. Implausibility meter moves into the red zone.
Jethro Skinner is excellent as Jack exuding a delicate intensity tinged with years of pent up anger. He is able to create a sympathetic and believable character in a less than convincing scenario. Roddy McDevitt as his long-lost lover, Danny, lurches between maudlin, whisky-soaked Irish stereotype and carefree, though closet-entombed, good-timer who seems to already have forgotten his apparently cherished dead wife, buried just hours earlier. A more interesting relationship is developed between these two than that of Janey and Eddie though Danny’s complete lack of empathy is never properly explored and we are left wondering why the more fascinating and rounded Jack would bother after all this time.
Curator of this golden oldie revival club is barman Joe who flits in and out of the bar with the regularity of a cuckoo clock – affording lengthy sequences for the couples to grapple with their past demons alone – something that no self-respecting barman would ever do, of course, particularly one who meticulously records his exorbitantly priced drinks sales in a little book. Joe, who was originally christened Jesus by his Spanish parents – which surely should be pronounced “Yayzus” – but changed it to Joe because of all the jokes, and – wouldn’t you know it – the third reunion involves him and a guest at a wedding in the hotel: plausibility meter goes off the scale. Said guest is Maxine: this time it’s the lingering Danny who’s noticed that Maxine is wearing a similar dress to the one his wife wore at their wedding (quelle surprise), who has to make himself scarce with a walk around the garden as we get into further jilting: this time it was Joe – as he forsook Maxine when they were about to purchase a flat together – so that he could go and raise goats, of course. Maxine was a tad pissed off with that – I can’t imagine why.
Maya Helena adds some sparkle to the proceedings but gets a little tongue-tied with some of the lines whilst Moses Latif as Joe injects some humour to the fairly dour script with his flippant ripostes coupled with immediate apologetic qualifications. He has a nice line in self-deprecation and along with Skinner helps to raise the show above the prosaic.
The play is directed by Denise Stephenson and the uncredited set design is very easy on the eye if a tad confusing. It appears at first sight that the recently upgraded hotel is on the coast but that turns out to be a red herring (I think): it’s just the new concept, apparently, as it’s on a tube line within easy driving distance of Croydon. I’m not convinced of the necessity for such a convoluted scenario: simplicity is always best, I believe. I would have thought a return to the three separate scenes with some judicious pruning and a minimal set would make Reunions a better play, and a drama that is decidedly more plausible.
Review by Peter Yates
“Hand on heart – not a day’s gone by without thinking about you – even after all these years.”
One summer night, one lonely hotel bar, three ex-couples reunite. They lay their cards on the table only to find that the past is not fixed but fluid, like the patterns in a kaleidoscope, ever-shifting and alive with possibilities.
Reunions is a story about wrong turns, chasing second chances and ‘the one who got away’.
Gemma Mills McGrath in association with Theatre503 presents…
Written by Gemma Mills McGrath
9th & 10th September 2018