BWW Reviews: INVINCIBLE, St James Theatre, July 15 2014
Having been caught in the backwash of the Coalition's cuts, Oliver (Darren Strange) and Emily (Laura Howard) downsize their way up North, packing their metropolitan culture (Oliver) and Old Labour politics (Emily) with them. When they invite neighbours, the Katie Priceish Dawn (Samantha Seager) and lager loutish Alan (Daniel Copeland), for anchovies and olives but no booze, things - unsurprisingly - do not go entirely to plan.
This is comedy (and proper comedy too - the kind that makes the audience laugh rather than smile) - so a certain latitude must be given to writer Torben Betts, but did the awkward couples really have to be such caricatures, so lacking in self-awareness? In the first half, I was reminded of The Young Ones, with Emily as Rik spouting Socialist Worker editorials, Oliver as Neil putting up with things, Alan as Vyvyan an anarchic whirlwind and Dawn as Mike, observing things and waiting to move in for her own benefit.
But the second half improves considerably, as we find out more about what's keeping each couple estranged from each other and start to believe a little more in the characters as real people who might just live under the same roof when we're not watching them. There's plenty of pathos too, as hopes and fears are realised and, would you believe it, they actually listen to each other!
The cast, having honed their parts at The Orange Tree from which Invincible has transferred, are excellent. Laura Howard stares with contempt at Darren Strange bullying him relentlessly with just the right look and with just the right frustrated anger as she clears away the kids' toys, lambasting New Labour. Strange gives his buffoonish Oliver just enough weight to make his second half transformation credible. Daniel Copeland looks fantastic as postie Alan and does the comic cuts with real verve. Samantha Seager stands out even in this company, especially when waiting her moment to pounce on these crazy Lefties and then in the predictable, but nevertheless moving, denouement.
Laughs aplenty, some tears, lots of emotion - isn't that what theatre is for? Well yes, but the emphasis on the comic, with its caricatures and its misunderstandings, compromises the more considered themes of the play. I'd have thought more about the distance (in every sense) between England's capital and its provinces, between the abstract and the concrete, between the educated and the uneducated, had I believed a little more in the people given the job of articulating such concerns.
Invincible continues at St James Theatre until 9 August.