(Not a) review: Chris Thompson’s A Film About Someone You Love, at Finborough theatre, part of Vibrant 2014 festival

Vibrant Festival Finborough 2014It hardly comes as a surprise that Chris Tompson’s play A Film About Someone You Love is, well, about love. But there is a catch. Not cuddly love, or even destructive one, but rather distortive. Love as a distorting mirror and a puzzle and an unreliable narrator. Which is bad news if your sense of self depends on love offered, accepted, received. Which it does. For everyone. Why is it so much easier to rely on cruel lies than on muddled truths?

The play is fairly single-minded in pursuing its subject and turning the focus on different kinds of love: friends, siblings, lovers, couples, mothers and daughters. It’s a testament to both play and staging that two hours of people talking and stumbling around the most tender (if absurd) corners of their lives never got boring. The tone is finely judged and recklessly engaging: everyone’s truths are both ridiculous and dangerous around the edges. So are their lies. There isn’t a dividing line between comedy and tragedy, in fact comedy is a tragedy that is having a nervous breakdown. The staging was equally confident, led by rich silences and tense pauses.

Doon Machichan’s Sophie Batten, mother of two daughters, has the brittle determination of the survivor, when everything is very funny until it’s not. Joanna Horton’s Ellie Batten had a difficult opaque quality, the more direct her approach the less transparent her heart. Shannon Tarbet as Lea Batten was formidably unpleasant and fragile in the same breath. Ashley Zhangazha’s Monday was profoundly and hilariously bewildered by his reaction to his own life.

My favourite character was Adam, as played by Felix Scott. He gets both the funniest and the most moving subplot: Adam is a west end “star”, playing the villain Scar in The Lion King and he is losing his partner to a brain tumour. He is a gentle man, ill-equipped for anger, who finds himself face to face with enraged grief.  He is both frozen to the moment and totally animated. He brought to mind Daniel in My Night With Reg (maybe because Daniel is my favourite character in that play and Robert Hastie, who directed this rehearsed reading, directed the Donmar production). Also Adam’s hapless retelling of being booed at the curtain call of The Lion King reminded me of the time we booed Bertie Carvel at the curtain call of Matilda (no regrets).

The rehearsed reading was part of the annual Vibrant festival of Finborough playwrights, celebrating its fifth year. Looking at the programme of years past, it’s not difficult to spot the emerging playwrights since emerged. It also reminded me I saw one of my favourite plays ever – James Graham’s The Man – in this festival. Don’t go at your own peril.

Curtain call watch: there is nothing to report on the actual curtain call, but the play has the line “There was an incident at the curtain call and I was sacked”. Come on, it definitely warrants a mention.

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