Review: JAB, Finborough Theatre

Covid play examines its impact on a marriage that was doing okay before lockdown exacted its price

By: Feb. 26, 2024
Review: JAB, Finborough Theatre
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Review: JAB, Finborough Theatre “Jab - a pointed and often mocking comment or criticism.

Jab - an injection of something (such as medicine) into one's body with a needle.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Both meanings are very much on point in James McDermott’s raw, perhaps cathartic, two-hander, one of the first plays that doesn’t just emerge as a by-product of the lockdown, but addresses its challenges and consequences head-on.

Review: JAB, Finborough Theatre

Anne and Don, kids long since left home, dance and bicker, comfortable in managing each other’s irritating habits, just about getting by and just about getting on. She’s an NHS manager, working hard deep into her 50s, but making enough money to indulge his vintage shop that’s more a hobby than a living. She does jab at his lack of contribution to the warp and weft of married life (29 years and counting - and is she counting!) and he, having parked any career aspirations to bring up the kids, is needled by the micro-aggressions. It’s a low level, largely good-humoured dysfunctionality, self-medicated by a little Chardonnay therapy.

But Don is not tech-savvy and we gain the first intimation that his vintage shop may be more than an interest, perhaps something of a retreat from a world spiralling away from him. Anne taps away at the laptop, while Don reads the version of the Daily Mail that leaves ink on your fingers and fear in your mind. When Covid starts to bite, Anne is fearful of the disease; Don is fearful of the jab.

Based (one really, really hopes not too closely) on the McDermott’s own parents, director, Scott Le Crass, delivers 90 minutes that charts the breakdown of a relationship, as Covid, partly through its pressure cooker lockdown and partly through information and disinformation about the vaccination, drives a wedge into gaps that were once easily bridgeable. It can be painful to watch and one can’t help wondering how often this scenario has played out behind the doors that, once upon a time, only opened to bang the pots and pans for health workers.  

Kacey Ainsworth lends Anne a winning sense of humour and understandable exasperation about a life that has turned out tolerable, but not all she expected. Capable of flinging a barb or two herself, her feistiness can spill over into bullying, but there’s also a look in her eye that says she does not want to be old before her time - and who can blame her?

Liam Tobin has a trickier job, Don being both hard to like and descending into a more clichéd character, sceptical, arrogant and entitled. It’s very much believable, but it’s just a bit too much like being trapped with the uncle who’s had a few drinks at Christmas and wants to tell you how you’ve got it all wrong about Nigel. He also goes to some very dark places as neurosis curdles into psychosis, fueling an increasingly violent misogyny.

Though the play is important in addressing theatre’s curious reluctance to tackle what lockdown did to us individually and collectively, it sets up too clear a division between its subjects’ worldviews and, hence, too linear a storyline in its second half. The emotions are raw, but only a little shouty and soapy, and many will recognise the stages of a marriage’s disintegration as such things happened long before Covid and will continue to happen long after those long days are forgotten. 

That said, for too long, we can see what’s coming next for Anne and Don, the inevitable consequence of when stubbornness puts all its chips on the table and the roulette wheel comes up on 0. 

Jab at the Finborough Theatre until 16 March

Photo Credits: Steve Gregson


 




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