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Invincible, New Vic theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme - review and pictures

Entertainment | Published:

So who, or what, is invincible? Not the English football team, for sure, or Vince the cat, or any of the four superficially strong characters in this well-told contemporary take on the clash of class and culture in a broken Britain.

Emily and Oliver, from the metropolitan socialist and liberal elite, re-locate to the north for a cheaper rental and to raise their children "among real people" following redundancy in the recession. They face anticipated challenges with confidence: "It's up to people like us to improve the local failing school – that's why I've applied to join the governing board."

Their new next door neighbours are working class locals born and bred, also suffering from the recession. Invited round for drinks – well, green tea in tiny teacups – Dawn enters like a diva in heels and low-cut scarlet dress. Alan makes an equally dramatic entrance once the England game is finished, brandishing a beer can and pirouetting round the furniture expounding his football philosophy.

This collision of attitudes and values of the two couples starts like a sit-com with easily recognisable, exaggerated characters. The pace and temperature ramps up when Emily, who paints pretentious abstracts, is asked for her honest opinion of Alan's portraits of his cat Vince. And again when Emily blames Tony Blair for "sending misguided, ignorant" soldiers to Iraq before realising that when Alan said their eldest son was "away" he didn't mean at college.

The humour ramps up too, especially at the start of the second act when crossed wires involving the sticky end of Vince (named after HMS Invincible) and another distinctly un-neighbourly act are played as farce. It's beautifully choreographed and very funny, leading through a cruel mockery to an emotionally charged denouement played as the tragedy it is.

Author Torben Betts writes "My plays all tend to be quite dark and I'm never one who feels constrained to deliver a happy ending." I certainly buy that. The only things that feel invincible here are English music (from Byrd to Bowie) and the enduring power of inherited wealth (enabling a re-re-location to Highgate).

But dark doesn't mean unremittingly gloomy. The humour lightens the social and political commentary and makes for a highly stimulating, enjoyable evening -- with not a mention of immigration or Brexit.

Graeme Brookes plays Alan with charming loutishness and well-judged comic timing – never more so than soliloquising about what a boring person he is. Elizabeth Boag, well known to New Vic audiences in Alan Ayckbourn productions, gives us a painfully sympathetic Dawn.

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Emily Bowker and Alastair Whatley as Emily and Alan have perhaps the harder task, as they struggle with their characters' desire to be honest and say what they think -- "or else what's the point?" – and their ultimate duplicity. They pull it off handsomely.

Invincible, written in 2014, is a touring production of The Original Theatre Company.

By John Hargreaves

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