People Like Us
People Like Us at The Union Theatre, London
“The play somehow doesn’t fulfil its potential”
There is a book group, being run by pompous Ralph with his French girlfriend, the arrogant Clemence. Their guests arrive and, although the group has been running for years, so much so that they are all apparently really good friends, there are obvious political differences. Opinionated Stacey, with the heart-on-the-sleeve Frances and optimistic Will soon join the fray. The Brexit referendum is a few days away and there is obviously tension in the room about it.
[Will, Frances, Ralph, Clemence and Stacey]
Then the results come in. Very quickly, there is a split in the group and the Remainers ask the Leavers to leave the group - Stacey and Frances are isolated. People Like Us touches on both crystal clear sides of the European debate, dropping in opinions with the subtlety of a brick in a paddling pool. Written by journalist Julie Burchill and novelist Jane Robins, this is their response to what it feels like to have voted Leave and been shunned by some of their so-called friends.
The set, superbly designed by Holly Best, instantly placing us into Alan Ayckbourn territory. But, sadly, that’s as close as we get to those heady heights. There are glimpses of it, but overall, the play somehow doesn’t fulfil its potential - almost as though it is not quite sure in which direction it should be heading. Am I a comedy about middle class people going through Brexit or a tragedy as ideals clash when mixed with copious amounts of wine and grandiose visions?
[Frances and Will]
This not only affects the flow of the play - which is more or less on the one level and pace - but the actors, too. Knowing how to pitch a performance in this style can be key and, for me, Sarah Toogood (as Frances) and Paul Giddings (as Will) glide through the script in the appropriate manner. They are both likeable and believable within the chaos. Unlike Kamaal Hussain (as Ralph), who doesn’t settle into a specific genre with his character. Marine Andre (as Clemence) has an accent so thick that, sadly, I missed many of her lines and Gemma-Germaine (as Stacey) plays it with too much bitterness and darkness.
[Clemence, Will and Ralph]
There is a glorious, tender scene which is bizarrely played upstage and behind the furniture. Tenderness is lacking in this script as its acerbic wit wants to rule the roost. But it can’t. It simply isn’t funny enough. When the laughs come, they come from moments of reality and calm - who would think a great punchline is ‘Rickets!’?
[Frances and Stacey]
I found some of Ben De Wynter’s direction slightly perplexing. There is a very good play in here, but it is being swamped by the subject matter and some strange staging. There are unnecessary monologues that tell us little that couldn’t come out of the action - the less said about the fight, the better - Stacey’s final costume change! What is that about? - As for the Sex that is promised on the poster… Where was it? Brexit, however, there is Brexit aplenty and much to agree and disagree about, whichever way you voted!
It is early days and the cast need to settle in and gain confidence. There is much laughter to be had, but it is not there yet.
Photographer Paul Nicholas Dyke
Producers Regan De Wynter Williams Productions
and Andrew Williams
Director Ben De Wynter
Designer Holly Best
Venue Union Theatre, 229 Union Street, London SE1 0LX
Tube Southwark (Jubilee Line)
Performances Until Saturday 20th October
Times 7.30pm Tuesday to Saturday
Saturday Matinees at 2.30pm
Tickets £26 (concessions £22.50)
Box Office www.uniontheatre.biz and 020 7261 9876
Running Time 2hrs including an interval