The stage at 53two is set for a confrontation: a raised bare rectangular platform reminiscent of a boxing ring. The opening of Elis Shotton ‘s Zucchini certainly promises a degree of conflict and drama. Jamie (Alastair Michael) believes his relationship with Katie (Elaine McNicol) has become stale and, without explaining to her the reason, has booked them a night in a cheap hotel so they can talk through their concerns. Mundane resentments are discussed but Jamie surprises both of them by blurting out he believes he is gay. Katie, however, turns out to also have a secret.
Zucchini has excellent dialogue and a pair of strong performances. Yet no-one involved seems confident as to the direction the play should take. In the opening scene, Alastair Michael has a distinctly sinister edge: slouching around the side of the stage and compulsively tiding up any litter, hinting the play might turn out to be a thriller. But the tension needed to develop the play as a drama is not maintained; instead it settles down to a pedestrian amble with spurts of humour.
The mission statement of Theatre Unlocked focuses on discussing issues of gender and sexuality which may have prompted director Josh Coates to take a cautious approach to the subject matter as if determined it should not be trivialised by anyone laughing at the wrong moment. This is a pity as the story seems ripe for development as a dark comedy.
Katie trumps her partner’s revelation with the explanation she has suspected he was gay but found this to be acceptable in view of her low sex drive. The discussion between the characters is understated and well-reasoned which allows the exploration of approaches to sexuality and identity. In fact everything in the play is civilised and reasonable which does not make for satisfying drama.
Several features in Zucchini, such as organising a heartfelt discussion in a strange location and Katie conveniently having a carrier bag of raw vegetables, are contrived. The understated approach prevents these contrivances being used to generate comic momentum. As a result, the conclusion, with the couple reconciled to a relationship based on feelings rather than sex, chucking vegetables around and ripping up a section of the stage, feels oddly out of place rather than the comic catharsis or celebration of refusal to conform to the norm that may have been intended.
While Zucchini is a thought-provoking play, the understated approach does not exploit fully some fine performances or the comic potential of the story.
Reviewer: David Cunningham