The UK premiere of The Crumple Zone a couple of years ago had a running time long enough to justify an interval – the first half ended with a cliff-hanger, and as a whole, it was a perfectly serviceable production. It is only on seeing this revised version, which sees its audiences in and out of the theatre in under ninety minutes, that one realises quite how multi-layered this play is. For one thing, ‘Matt’ is now ‘Sam’ (Natasha Edwards), and the inclusion of a female character enhances the narrative considerably: this is no longer a ‘gay play’ but rather explores love and relationships irrespective of sexual orientation.
This production does well to portray how things were in Staten Island, New York (or, indeed, anywhere else) before the ubiquity of mobile telephony. Sam, away from home for months at a time for work purposes, does not use Instagram, WhatsApp, Skype or Facebook Messenger to touch base with boyfriend Alex (Nick Brittain), but instead – this is the mid-1990s – bombards a landline answering machine Alex shares with Terry (Lucas Livesey). I wonder if it were possible to not touch base for so long with someone in the digital era, but in any event, there’s a reason why Alex (Nick Brittain) has stopped returning Sam’s many calls: he’s seeing Buck (Robbie Capaldi), but hasn’t broken up with Sam (Natasha Edwards). Strong feelings still and all that.
Love triangles in theatre are nothing new, but the plot here is nuanced enough to maintain interest to the end. The flamboyant and expressive Terry (Livesey’s interpretation brought to mind Nathan Lane’s Roy Cohn in the 2017 National Theatre production of Angels in America), for instance, convinces Roger (Fanos Xenofos), a fellow commuter he happened to engage in conversation with on the Staten Island ferry service to come home with him – much hilarity ensues when Roger quite reasonably assumes Terry’s intentions for having him over, only for Buck to walk in on the pair just as activity (ahem) is getting underway. There is a lot of humour in the show, some of which is dark and a lot of which is dry, as befits the increasingly problematic situation faced by each of the characters. Roger is not immune, despite not being in the love triangle or being a close friend of anyone in it: a late twist reveals he, too, is in an existing relationship.
As I had no idea what a ‘crumple zone’ was before seeing the show, it is perhaps worth mentioning what a crumple zone is. It refers to parts of a motor vehicle that are designed to ‘crumple’ in a collision, absorbing the force of the hit, and thus reducing the risk of injury to anyone in the vehicle. Alas, to say anything about how that relates to the storyline of the play would be giving too much away. But all of the characters are developed well, and the show, particularly in the latter scenes, seems to thrive on chaos.
The near-universal themes of love and loyalty are very much evident. If some of the punchlines would have been more suitable twenty-five years ago (an example: “I like my alcohol the way I like my men, strong and cheap”) that is only because lines like that go with the time and the place of the play. The comic timing could, technically, have been a tad tighter on press night, but with the benefit of hindsight, this only added to the vulnerabilities and insecurities of the characters in a production as deep as it is witty. A gloriously lively and entertaining production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Taking place in a Staten Island apartment over the Christmas holiday season, this hilarious comedy gives a fly-on-the-wall perspective when four friends and a mystery visitor find themselves in just one apartment.
“This is the play to see! This is how a sleepover should be. Makes Big Brother look like Enid Blyton!”
It’s a little-known hilarious play by Buddy Thomas from New York which deserves to be seen again. The Crumple Zone won the New Voices Play Award.
THE CRUMPLE ZONE
by Buddy Thomas
Directed by Robert McWhir
Nick Brittain – Alex
Robbie Capaldi – Buck
Natasha Edwards – Sam
Lucas Livesey – Terry
Fanos Xenofos – Roger
The King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, London N1 1QN
Time: 21:30 (70min). and 17:15 Sunday matinees