Royal Exchange, Manchester
For all the implied violence in this new Simon Stephens’ play nobody ever actually assaults anyone – not that it stops you wanting to slap one or two characters yourself.
There’s a strong case here for a little judicious corporal punishment sorting matters out before everything gets hideously, and predictably, out of control.
Stephens, one of the country’s most prolific playwrights and currently on a roll with glittering productions in London, is back home in his native Stockport again for a play about half a dozen transgressive characters caught up in an unseemly domestic drama.
It’s in the soap opera territory that Julie Hesmondhalgh might have safely thought she’d left behind in Coronation Street just last week, as the terminally-ill Hayley Cropper.
Cathy (Katie West) is a thumb-sucking girl child, with a disabled daughter of her own, and irresistibly attracted to apprentice accountant – and burglar – John (Andrew Sheridan).
Naturally mother (Hesmondhalgh) disapproves, and best friend Siobhan (Bebecca Callard) hardly helps either, by also falling for John’s dubious charms.
Their respective conversations are as perpendicular and perverse as Anna Fleischle’s functional set design.
The story heads, eventually, towards areas well worth dramatic exploration, but the journey there feels a little ponderous.
It’s no real help, either, that the story spans the time between a 1979 winter of discontent and the sunny uplands of New Labour’s arrival in 1997; that there’s a sketchily-contrived Jewish hairdresser character, played by Jack Deam; or that Cathy, for all her anarchic free spiritedness, takes a particularly reactionary line in her history A-level studies..
All they suggest are dramatic afterthoughts, rather than any real attempt to politicise a grimly personal tale.
A play that still feels as if it is at the workshop stage, continues here until February 15.