by Mike Bartlett
Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Until 9 June 2012
Box office: 020 7565 5000
The opening scene is set around the late sixties, when, we are told, London was an exciting place, breaking down the barriers with music, fashion, drugs and sexual freedom. It is also the decade that The Royal Court brought us a string of John Osborne plays, including Inadmissable Evidence, with a mesmerising, self-destructive, swaggering performance by Nicol Williamson, and A Patriot for Me with Maximiliian Schell, and others by such playwrights as David Storey, Christopher Hampton, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, BIG writers leaving BIG footprints in Sloane Square.
Mike Bartlett may not fit into their shoes yet, but he has certainly made a mark. Two brothers are sharing a flat, much to the annoyance of the older, staid, conservative Henry, while Kenneth is a lazy, drunk sponger, who is living off his Oxford University grant. Henry brings home a radical-chic chick who picked him up, high on free love and pot, with a view to sleeping together. It doesn‘t take a mastermind to work out what happens next, but it still takes an age to drag it out.
There is an elaborate scene-change for Act 2, set in a suburban house 1990, with the addition of two teenage children, Rose and her younger brother Jamie. There are references to Columbo and Procol Harem (who?) for those in the audience of a certain age, and there is a loads of smoking, swearing and swigging white wine by their parents, again for those in the audience of a certain age. The mother, Sandra, is brilliantly played by Victoria Hamilton, who has honed and polished her bitchy selfishness down to a tee, and Ben Miles is excellent as the complacent dad. The parents scream accusations about infidelity in front of the kids, and at the height of their row about having affairs, Kenneth remarks that “something’s gone wrong”. Sandra looks bewildered. “ We live in Reading.”
Act Three involves an even more elaborate scene-change, this time to a ultra-modern country house with big French windows overlooking the extensive grounds. We are in the present day, with iPads and iPhones dotted about.
The children have grown up. Rose is now thirty-seven and blames her parents for the way things have panned out - no boy-friend, no children, no money, no car. The boy, Jamie, is away with the fairies, and has become a companion to his dad.
Each character has his or her own say, but no-one is really listening, certainly not the parents, who ooze smug self-satisfaction as they reminisce and romanticise about the freedom they had as products of the sixties. Mike Bartlett has written some punchy scenes, mostly involving Sandra and Rose, and some well-tuned laughs, mostly about booze, but the end is inconclusive, other than bringing to mind Philip Larkin’s oft-quoted aphorism about your mum and dad.