Happy to coast along on its plentiful surface charms, Seb Kainth’s sparkling script for Freaky Geese Productions provides its cast with endless verbal and situational opportunity, a farcical spirit coiling underneath an oh-so-fraught comedy of barely-managed civility. It quickly assumes the dimensions of an expert comic grotesque.

Couple Kevin and Lisa, whose marriage has devolved to the brink of divorce, have invited old friend Rich and his new girlfriend Fran over for dinner where all manner of hijinks ensue with personal agendas colliding and secrets threatening to tear at a carefully-crafted facade. There’s a clever opening exchange between each couple repeated almost verbatim that in its variance of tone and focus speaks volumes about the emotional and psychological reality of both newly-minted Rich & Fran and weary veterans Kevin & Lisa. Iona Crampton as Lisa brings a delicious venom to her line readings, her words dripping with a hostile, supercilious panache. She is a comic monstrosity of privilege and pomposity, insisting on formality and giving boastful pronouncements. Husband Kevin (writer Kainth pulling double-duty) has the deportment of someone who has long ago given up, worn down and receding, vigilant to his partner’s every crushing grievance. Dan Le Friec as Rich mines an abundant vein of anxious distraction as his own compromising behaviour edges ever closer to divulgence (the sight of him savagely, sweatily devouring the courses of the onstage dinner meal as if to chew straight past the tension provides a few moments of unnerving fascination). Molly Barton’s Fran, new to this viper’s den, initially is the most sympathetic character. She holds her own against the dominant personalities, exuding a sure sense of self and fortitude. Given Kainth’s astute writing and inflexions in Barton’s performance, many a clue is dropped (with casual, unforced ease) that all may not be as first seen. A steady confident beat of entrances and exits allows each connection and intrigue to blossom.

Kainth also excels in depicting those dreamily abstracted moments, especially in long-term relationships, where partners escape into odd little vacuums of self-preservation. Kevin’s fevered monologue of the perfect cheese toastie takes on almost tragic proportions in its operatic intensity, one thing left to him to own and claim in a life that has otherwise been commandeered. The eruptive speech is met with both startled confusion and disdain. While delivered comically, his alertness to the poor condition of the skirting boards for which he is responsible, internalised as a failure of character, also speaks to the depths of Kevin’s feelings of indentured servitude and imperilled position as Lisa’s husband.

Director Rhys Ashcroft appears late in the first act, a character who will go on to disrupt much of the proceedings to follow and of which no more will be said. He keeps the energy flowing through the two acts with a sure sense of control, never allowing the frantic material to lose proportion. Perhaps Kainth could tighten up the resolution slightly after the careful build-up, but it’s clear he is here to have fun and provide an entertaining evening with a few surprises, which he accomplishes brilliantly. Not for him is the incisive, cutting and brutal heavy-breathing warfare of a WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF scenario, but instead, a broader, more insouciant, mellow study of questionable ethics and interpersonal conflict that is large on laughs and crafty behaviour.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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