Hampstead Downstairs / Celia Atkin
Hampstead Theatre, Downstairs
A key theme of Either—the first full-length play by talented actor / writer Ruby Thomas—is the human dilemma of choice. Any choice that we make involves the not choosing of another choice, a rub that extended to this play’s rehearsal room where the assignment of roles remained fluid until finally fixed, meaning that some incarnations would never be seen, in this run at least.
The plot centres on just one couple, A and B and—in a literal example of content reflecting form / form reflecting content—they are portrayed by six actors whose smooth stage transitions (akin to the dissolve on a Powerpoint presentation) render A and B as genderless and multi-faceted characters.
A and B are former lovers who bump into each other at an event, over something as random as a spilt cup of coffee, and contemplate the pros and cons of rekindling their relationship. In doing so, their modern witty dialogue (covering contemporary hot topics such as non-taxpaying corporations, re- and up-cycling, dating apps, swiping left / right, social media) evolves to consider those aspects of life that start to hit us as we enter our thirties (lost job opportunities, lost lovers, ageing parents) and is a thought-provoking disquisition on life’s choices; for example, does a tattoo in honour of a now ex-lover elicit a painful memory, or a pleasurable one at the mere reminder of what love can drive us to?
The young cast—Gabriel Akuwudike, Patrick Knowles, Isabella Laughland, Bianca Stephens, Lizzy Watts, Tilda Wickham—manage their role transitions so smoothly that the device proves to be a benefit in exploring how we are all so many people. They are assisted by a fine team: director Guy Jones’s literary background shines through; Bethany Well’s set design—a small white triangular stage with side panels—permits easy cast transitions; and the intimate space of Hampstead Theatre Downstairs offers a perfect platform for new work such as this. Ruby Thomas understands performance as both actor and playwright and this play-text could be a set text in drama schools.
The play keys into discussions on whether gender is grounded in genetics and hormone-driven or is a social construct, but Either shows that gender, like life and love, is less of a binary and more of a spectrum. As the programme helpfully informs, former ideas of differences between male and female brains are now largely discredited. And as we don’t know here which gender A or B is, drama proves to be a powerful and enabling platform for not ‘either, or’—but ‘many’.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler