Tristan Bates Theatre, London
Quality productions at Tristan Bates continue: Missing by Barney Norris follows his award-winning debut At First Sight with critically acclaimed production company Up In Arms.
The premise of this piece is simple, as is the set: in a bedroom, over the space of a few years, we experience a snapshot of the lives of two brothers in 1980s Andover with Margaret Thatcher’s Britain as backdrop.
Such pared down simplicity provides a perfect canvas on which to paint a brief 75-minute representation of that most poignant of cocktails: youthful hope mixed with youthful disillusionment.
Luke (Rob Heaps) has a place at university and a budding relationship, meaning that his escape route is imminent: younger brother Andy (Joe Robertson) suffers nightmares, sleepwalks, and is veering off the rails before deciding to follow his father’s path in joining the army, much to his brother’s disapproval and his mother’s grief.
Flashbacks are nicely handled as Luke’s monologues and the judicious use of lighting by Miguel Vicente help to distinguish between then and now and although this is a two-hander, the absent-mother’s presence is felt through the brothers’ voiced mixed feelings towards her.
Although the play’s premise is political, what is key (though not over-stated) is the fact that growing up is difficult, that dysfunctional families tend to be the norm rather than the exception, and that young adults must decide how to live with the repercussions.
Barney Norris’s script leaves gaps and room for ambiguity but this is the play’s strength rather than its weakness because we are forced to surmise subjectively at what is actually missing—leading us back very cleverly to the play’s title and overarching theme.
Rob Heaps and Joe Robertson are pitch-perfect in capturing a brotherly love that can sweep from cruel jibe and arm wrestling to confession and unconditional understanding. Nods to the 80s are subtly evocative and anyone who ever made a radio compilation tape on a Sunday afternoon will feel a stab of nostalgia for a time that’s gone.
See this memorable, touching, unsettling, occasionally funny, and thought-provoking play now and you might be one of those smug types who can claim down the line that you saw two fine young actors in a tiny venue before they made it big.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler