What Falls Apart
Thursday 23rd April
Torben Betts first play for Live Theatre is a brilliant mix of humour - the audience was laughing out loud almost from the start of act one - and suspense and tension. We knew it wasn't going to end well, as drink and paranoia took a grip of the three characters on stage. And sure enough it all comes to a head in Act Two, though perhaps not quite as the audience anticipates. There are still laughs in Act Two but they are fewer and darker, edged with discomfort and uncertainty. Act two is tense.
What Falls Apart follows the events of one night in a 24hr hotel bar. Tom Savage (Nigel Hastings), outspoken labour MP has been welcomed back into the fold and given a "safe" seat in Newcastle. His campaigning is not going well and he has drowned his sorrows once already in the Hotel bar. As you'd expect he has said more than he should to the barman, a man with a surprising memory for facts and figures. Gary England (Kevin Wathen) is a barman with a past. A recovering alcoholic, son of an abusive father, and father himself to a daughter who is about to be taken from him. He is smart, streetwise and under pressure. He acts the jovial "friend to all" barman, listening to the woes of the politician and offering advice and philosophy but there is an underlying sense of something dangerous about him. And this becomes more pronounced when Venetia Fitzpatrick (Zannah Hodson) enters the bar.
Young, beautiful, intelligent, and a professed fan of the MP. She is equally dangerous and not quite all she seems. She claims to be an academic but not was not present at the lecture earlier that day - a lecture our savvy barman had attended. Her arrival upsets the balance between the barman and the politician, as they all vie for attention and none get what they want.
These are very believable characters - each one is clearly hiding something. Nigel Hastings politician is a man with strong beliefs and principles whos ambition led him to make a decision he regrets. He is clearly struggling to deal with the more mundane aspects of campaigning. He is a global socialist but not quite a man of the people. It can't be easy to play a politician and elicit sympathy from the audience, Hastings does just that. His character reveals enough of his own angst and his frustration and anger with the system, to keep his audience on side. Unlike Venetia Fitzpatrick - Zannah Hodson's character elicits distrust almost from the moment she steps onto the stage. Or perhaps that's just me? Maybe it's a female thing to assume a beautiful woman interested in an older man must be up to something?
Kevin Wathen's portrayal of the barman is a triumph. He pulls you in - he's clever, witty, clearly intelligent, but also flawed. We can see it, and there are references throughout the first act to warn us. As his personal life begins to fracture so does his self assurance. He can choose one of two options and the choice he makes will determine everyone's future.
Pop Quiz! What do you get when you throw together a criminally beautiful woman, a drunken politician and a barman on the edge with "a big fuck off knife"?
Answer: a second act with so much tension you almost forget to breathe.
Tom Savage, Venetia Fitzpatrick and Gary England will be falling apart at Live Theatre until 16th May.
If you don't like your theatre political and tense, don't go see it. If you do, go and remember to breathe.