“We’re going to break up with our best friend”
Canadian drama doesn’t get much of a look in in London so it was interesting to see Québécois playwright François Archambault having his play The Leisure Society mounted at the Trafalgar Studios’ downstairs space. The headlines have naturally focused on the theatrical debut of former model Agyness Deyn but thespier types will appreciate the return of Ed Stoppard who illuminated his father’s Arcadia so very well a few years back (and yes, as suggested by the poster, he does get his shirt off!).
The play is a scathing look at the self-obsession of the middle classes, focusing on Peter and Mary, an affluent, successful couple with a new baby yet both dealing with a deep ennui, a huge dissatisfaction with the state of their lives. As part of the ‘cleaning up’ of their lives to become ideal parents – they’ve already given up smoking and drinking – they invite best friend Mark round for dinner and to tell him that his newly-single life of debauchery doesn’t fit into their plan and so they are dumping him. But when Mark turns up with his new ‘special friend’ the lithe Paula and several bottles of wine, their plans go somewhat awry as sex, scandal and secrets end up on the menu along with the roast beef.
Archambault’s humour is frequently most refreshing in its biting wit and its contemptuous tone towards these thoroughly unlikeable characters. Their determination to have it all, the perfect yuppie life that they have created plus a newborn, is skewered by the selfishness with which they live that life – their approach to parenthood is horrendously hilarious, adoption and abortion also come in for brutally funny treatment, and let’s not got started on what they actually think of each other. The introduction of Mark, whose moral compass is equally skewed and Paula whose carefree attitudes proves to be something of a catalyst for action to be taken – but only superficially, these people care only about gratification not realising the huge moral vacuum in their lives.
Ed Stoppard as the neurotic and frustratingly prevaricating Peter crackles beautifully off the icy veneer of Melanie Gray’s Mary, dripping with scornful derision yet no braver than her husband in the end. John Schwab’s newly hedonistic Mark has the swagger of a much younger man and also the accompanying lack of maturity, and Deyn acquits herself well as the free-thinking Paula with a blithe ease to her sexuality. Harry Burton directs with a nice largely free-flowing touch, though I wasn’t much keen on the muzak versions of the classical music that punctuates in the scenes. The final angst-ridden twists towards a darker, more disturbing place didn’t quite feel like the right ending for me, searching for a depth it didn’t really need, but for a fast-paced, foul-mouthed, vicious ride that pulls no punches, you can’t go wrong with paying a visit to The Leisure Society.