Saturday 31 May 2014

Between Us @ The Arcola Theatre

The title of Between Us, the new play from British feminist playwright Sarah Daniels, is an immediate indicator of the therapy sessions at the heart of the narrative.  Through monologue the audience is privy to private sessions as two characters (one male, one female) discuss their differing experiences of adoption.

Yet the title is also ironic as private becomes public.  The therapist moonlights as a stand-up comedian, who uses these sessions as inspiration for her comic routines.  It's through these scenes that Daniels cleverly breaks the fourth wall: the opening comic scene alone is a biting view of fringe theatre with the line "I bet you'd rather be at Mama Mia".

It's the structure, then, that most impresses with this comedy-drama.  Scene by scene we piece together the stories of Julia (Charlotte Cornwell), Dave (Callum Dixon) and Teresa (Georgina Rich).  Dave is a typical London macho geezer depressed after the birth of his daughter; Teresa is a well-to-do Waitrose shopper struggling to look after her troubled adopted children; Julia is the therapist/stand-up who reconnects with her own daughter she gave up for adoption.  It soon becomes clear that their lives are inexplicably linked.

Daniels further layers her narrative with themes tackling sexist taboos.  Dave is actually a new aged man worried for the safety of his daughter in a modern sexist world; Teresa was talked out of her child bearing years by her husband, slowly driving her to madness.  It's Teresa who provides commentary through her stand-up: "biology gets in the way of equality" she notes, "but now we can talk about it".

Further, is it possible to love children who aren't biologically ours?  Is it fair to treat children as a commodity, to give up on them when life becomes too hard?  Or is it a sort of vanity to hold onto them, to appear charitable?

"We all do stupid things when we're young" remarks Teresa, but it's how we deal with guilt that shapes us as people.  It's only through black comedy that Daniels is able to be so brutally honest about her themes, which hang together tightly in an amusingly and touchingly human drama that's thought-provoking and wonderfully acted.  Forget Mama Mia, this intricate piece of theatre shouldn't be kept between us.


Watch: Between Us runs at the Arcola Theatre until 21st June.