Imaginationship

Sue Healy

Two’s Company in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre

Finborough Theatre

From 07 January 2018 to 23 January 2018

Review by Howard Loxton

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Set in Yarmouth, a town that in 2016 voted 72% for Brexit and that dramatist Sue Healey presents as a place people want to get out of, Imaginationship’s characters include immigrants from Lithuanian and Hungary.

Symbolically, the pile of detritus on the stage makes it look like a rubbish dump and the guys clearing up are a vodka-swilling, spliff-smoking, joke-cracking, local chap and the seemingly more serious Lithuanian. It seems to be setting up a study of the disadvantaged, the rift between native and incomer, between those feeling ignored and those in London they think of as the posh lot.

But these upturned chairs surrounded by beer cans and bottles are ringed with police tape. It’s a crime scene, though it is not until they start mopping it up that it dawns that the red silk they are piled on represents blood and not until the end of the play that you discover what has happened.

It undermines the play’s credibility that the police would have left others to clean up, leaving possible evidence still to be discovered, but the realism here comes from the performances, not the plot’s clever contrivances, and the background themes of Brexit and immigration are not pursued.

The play is about what’s in the title, though not at first easily readable. Think first relationship, then imaginationship. It presents an interlocking group of people whose desires see others feelings for them not as they are but as they would wish them to be.

In the Glitter Ballroom, 59-year-old Ginnie Atkins is trying to put the clock back and recapture a better time by mounting a nostalgia night of '70s disco. She’s also hoping to rekindle what she remembers as an old romance. She has invited a mate from her teens, Brenda Sullivan, to come along and she’s brought her 29-year-old daughter Melody.

Melody is dreamy-eyed about Tony Morton, an evening class teacher with whom she is studying Greek Civilization. She wants a romantic attachment, not the sex that her randy mum is always seeking, but she has misread his signs of interest. Meanwhile, Brenda wants her to wake up and live her way.

At the dance, there’s a good-looking 21-year-old who could be a suitable distraction. He’s from Budapest, a marine biologist but working now in a cannery. He’s attracted to Melody but out on the beach there’s a problem. Soon it is Brenda who is after him. The problem, perhaps already seen by the sharp-eyed is priapism.

If you think this is getting complicated, that is only the half of it. Tony turns up, he thinks to forestall a suicide, Ginny has bought a bungalow to retire to and wants Brenda to join her to relive a 1976 drug-fuelled summer of lesbian love and then there’s the lad that Brenda seduced when he was only a teenager. On top of this, Tony has written an academic paper on Eros, though fortunately we don’t get to hear it—is there some classical theory being followed in all this confusion?

There are strong performances from Jilly Bond as Ginny and Bart Suavek as embarrassed Attila from Hungary, with Joanna Bending as a suitably wilting Melody. As Tony, Rupert Wickham suggests a man scared stiff of what any contact with Melody may get him into while John Sackville and Atilla Akinci exchange banter as the cleaners.

Sue Healey gives them all a distinctive character but never explores them deeply. Tricia Thorns’s direction allows the actors to develop them a little further and Patience Tomlinson, as Brenda, is able to create a character that seems more real than the others. This randy, self-centred woman who seems to see men as sex objects merely is the maker of tragedy; the play could be richer by exploring that further.