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The Watford Gap at The Bread and Roses Theatre | Review

The Watford GapOne of the consequences of the global pandemic has been an increase in mental health awareness: The Watford Gap contributes to the ongoing conversation. Although on one level it is another play in a smaller theatre that highlights the effects of people who are taken by their own hand on those who are left behind, it also considers what can happen if only someone could take the time to talk.

Adam (Jake Felts) seems an unlikely candidate to talk Oliver (Tom Plenderleith) round – he’s one of those people on his phone, having to contact his new employer because services through Watford Junction have been suspended and he can’t get to London. One of those jobs that can’t be done from home, it seems. Oliver, meanwhile, is going to Liverpool (or so he says: Adam later discovers there are no direct services from Watford Junction to Liverpool Lime Street) to make a fresh start.

Railway cancellations therefore mean both parties have time to kill. Oliver is almost constant with his quips and sayings that aren’t to be taken literally, and it takes a while for the more plain-speaking Adam to realise that not everything his counterpart comes out with a statement of fact. But Adam continues to misread him when he reveals there was a death in his immediate family, and the palpable awkwardness is akin to that of a first date where the conversation has started off on the wrong foot.

The dialogue is convincingly random, the result of two people who have some time to kill talking about whatever is on their minds. But Adam thinks he could, perhaps, learn something from Oliver – the former could lighten up a bit and the latter could stop clowning around quite so much. With a forty-five minute running time, it’s a brief show, but as I have often said, it is better to have an audience wanting more than to outlast one’s welcome.

And it doesn’t feel rushed – and this is key to the play’s credibility: as there is no estimated timeframe for train services to resume, why would either man need to suddenly go anywhere, unless someone said something completely ridiculous or incriminating? There are a few swear words (nothing that wouldn’t be heard, for instance, in a pub or a school playground, or a performance of The Book of Mormon) but, other than that, it’s all relatively civilised.

The backdrop of a train delay might, in Oliver’s own choice of description, have made for a “boring” show. But it ends up being rather impassioned, and something of a clarion call to us all to reach out to someone – stiff upper lip stoicism has its benefits, but it’s not always the best approach when one is wrestling with personal demons. The play’s ending is hopeful, which some might see as a little contrived, but this is a bold and hard-hitting debut production from the Draft 99 Theatre Company.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Adam is on his way to London for his first day at a Law Firm. Due to high winds, all trains are cancelled and he’s stranded at Watford Junction train station. This is where he meets Oliver, a young, happy – go – lucky, and often intolerable type who claims to be on his way up to Liverpool to start his new life. The Watford Gap is a story of opposites, and how in many ways, they can attract. Though Adam and Oliver disagree on many things, their differences may save their lives. You’re not alone, and although you’re a very small cog in a very large system, your mechanic could well be pivotal to the function of another.

Cast: Tom Plenderleith and Jake Felts

The Watford Gap
written by Tom Plenderleith – directed by Isaac Rowan and Ben Reid
2nd – 4th November at 7pm and 9pm
https://www.breadandrosestheatre.co.uk/

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