I’m not sure about you, but at this moment in time, I am crying out for light comic relief, and with Stretch Marks and Broken Hearts, currently playing at the Etcetera Theatre, it is exactly that.
The piece could be described as a 21st-century take on a kitchen-sink drama – working-class protagonists, living their day to day, nothing extraordinary happening, just life in challenging circumstances, 4 people: 2 couples, living on the bread line, heating costs going through the roof, having to live with your in-laws because you can’t afford to rent on our own, the inability to get a good-paying job if you’ve not been to Uni and trying to start a family when your partner isn’t sure they want to bring a baby into this world.
The success of this production comes from the cleverly crafted text and its delivery. Lee Lomas has penned an insightful deep dive into working-class life in Manchester, dealing with universal issues that could easily trigger an audience and send them into a meltdown in the current climate, yet Lomas manages to keep the play light and comedic in tone, focusing instead on male friendship and the bond that lads have with each other when away from their partners.
The piece received loud belly laughs throughout, it was pure joy watching the male characters, Phil (Loma) and Cal (Nunes) converse in the pub. Both Lomas and Nunes brought their characters to life in a way that forced empathy from the audience, it was easy to laugh with them, to feel their pain and to side with them. To me, the female characters sadly came across as very neurotic and very unlikeable, I’m not sure if this is deliberate, or because our playwright is male and had a more insightful view into the male psyche. Either way, it’s rare for me to watch a play about pregnancy and come out on the fathers’ side rather than the expectant mothers. It is nice seeing a different point of view rather than the accepted norm. It is 2022 after all, the year of equality for men and women.
The content of the play is very of the moment, there is also highly sexualised dialogue, spoiler alert, there is one scene where Cal is comparing the act of rimming to eating olives, so if you’re not a fan of this kind of content then the piece is not for you. However, I dare you not to laugh at this part of the production, the whole audience was roaring and cheering our lads on.
Of the 4 performers, Lomas is stand-out. The character he plays is hugely believable, he’s our working-class hero, pulling pints at the weekend, living with his mam and enjoying a beer or three every evening. He wants nothing more than to be a great dad for his kid, because he didn’t have that himself. Lomas’ cheeky northern persona is a lad who sings along to Joy Division and Oasis as if his life depends on it, he is a dream to watch. From his outfit (Grey joggers, zip hoody, t-shirt and earrings) to his drunken dancing and seduction routine to his heartfelt exchanges with Rosie (Miranda Langley) Lomas pulls out a first-class performance
Review by Faye Stockley
Set in Manchester during bleak January two working-class couples are struggling with the grim realities of bringing a child into the world. Lomas uses dark humour to ignite questions of class, gender politics and the limited opportunities available to the working class. Miranda Langley, Olivia Moyles and Samuel Nunes de Souza join Lomas in the company.
Stretch Marks & Broken Hearts
Wednesday 2 March – Sunday 6 March 2022
Etcetera Theatre, 265 Camden High St, London NW1 7BU