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The Roundabout Season

Duncan Macmillan, Nick Payne and Penelope Skinner
Paines Plough and Sheffield Theatres
Shoreditch Townhall

One Day When We Were Young Credit: istock
Lungs Credit: istock
The Sound of Heavy Rain Credit: istock

Paines Plough & Sheffield Theatres’ latest contribution to contemporary UK drama, a trilogy of plays making their London debut in repertory at Shoreditch’s townhall, is, on the whole, must-see work.

Nestled in the hall’s Victorian assembly room, Paines Plough’s intimate in-the-round set-up offers adept stagings of Nick Payne’s One Day When We Were Young and Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs. Penelope Skinner’s less successful The Sound of Heavy Rain completes the trilogy.

In his endearing one-act, One Day When We Were Young, Nick Payne tracks the lives of Violet and Leonard, a couple coming of age amidst the destruction of the Second World War. Payne’s thoughtful story unfolds over the next sixty years, providing a window into the lovers’ difficult choices and their consequent repercussions while maintaining a charming sense of humour throughout.

Smartly directed by Clare Lizzimore, Maia Alexander and Andrew Sheridan excel in Payne’s study of love’s unrelenting grasp. Both performers move effortlessly between the play’s laugh-out-loud moments and instances of resounding heartbreak. Alexander is a delight, particularly as the precocious young Violet attempts to educate Leonard on the mechanics of teenaged love-making; for his part, Sheridan’s at once funny and devastating take on an elderly Leonard makes up for the script’s only weak point, a tendency to flirt with melodramatics in the final scene.

The high-point of Paines Plough’s trilogy, Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs, takes a hilarious and wryly unforgiving look at the angst-ridden plight of young, over-educated Westerners agonizing over potential mummy-and-daddy-hood. Off the top, Macmillan’s script delivers big laughs, as M, played by the very funny Alistair Cope, uses a queue at IKEA to broach the possibility of parenthood with his deliciously neurotic partner W, the equally brilliant Kate O’Flynn.

Hyperventilating ensues and we’re off on Macmillan’s exquisite and highly comic look at love with a debilitating social consciousness (attendant carbon-footprint phobia and Starbucks embargo included).

While Cope and O’Flynn are masterful in their roles, flexing equally strong comic and dramatic chops, director Richard Wilson also deserves high praise. His minimalist vision supports the ever-shifting dynamics of M and W’s amorphous relationship and moves effortlessly through space and time. In the end, this outstanding production is at its sweetest as M and W begin to abandon one-sided conversations devoted to the quest for perfect circumstances and, instead, find themselves growing into self-assured adults whose belief in each other outweighs the politics of overpopulation.

The final selection in Paines Plough’s trilogy, The Sound of Heavy Rain, is by far the most disappointing. In a tongue and cheek tribute to film noir (which feels tired from the outset) playwright Penelope Skinner examines love, life and identity politics through the story of a heartbroken PI on the case of a missing seductress.

Unfortunately, this script never quite comes together, struggling to establish a thematic axis and turning to a comic yet entirely incongruent disco sequence at its conclusion. While Cope, O’Flynn, Alexander and particularly Sheridan (in the central driving role) can’t be faulted for engaging with the material to the best of their abilities, James Grieve’s direction comes into question.

Overall, The Sound of Heavy Rain doesn’t seem as polished as the other productions, unfolding more like an afterthought that never quite matches the pitch perfect pace and nuanced performances of One Day When We Were Young and Lungs.

Reviewer: Melissa Poll