Director: Tilly Vosburgh
Writer: Simon Mendes da Costa
Reviewer: Dan English
Acclaimed playwright Simon Mendes da Costa brings his new comedy, A Better Woman, to Canterbury’s Marlowe Studio, with successful results.
Directed by Tilly Vosburgh, da Costa’s play, about a middle-aged man’s struggle with finding love in the eclectic dating world, is the second homegrown production from the Marlowe Theatre following the impressive Beached in 2014.
Ben Porter is Tom, the protagonist, who’s a 40-something year-old-man, fumbling his way through the modern internet dating scene following the collapse of his long-term relationship a few years earlier. Porter encapsulates da Costa’s awkward creation perfectly, bringing just the right balance between awkwardly charming and awkwardly cringe-worthy. The weaving of his dates is masterly crafted in this production and Porter’s ability to maintain a good pace to his performance drives the plot forward, but also his ability to make da Costa’s quickest wit shine is equally as impressive.
Tom is supported in his search for love friends, and neighbours, Maurice and Sherry (Paul Panting and Charlie Norfolk). As the self-confessed married couple singletons ‘aspire to be’, the characters run the risk of becoming irritating from the get go. However, Panting and Norfolk’s portrayal as the long-married pairing is joyous. The pair bring together an element of married charm in their performance, often providing much of the comedic interlude while Tom muses his romantic options.
Alexia Traverse-Healy is Jessica, Tom’s love interest for much of this play. Jessica is a single mum with a wild side, but her burgeoning relationship with Tom is sweetening, despite the clear differences between fun Jess and tame Tom. Traverse-Healy strikes a fine balance between the caring and crazy sides to her character, particularly within the first few, cocaine fused, moments, with her comic timing proving a real strength in this production.
As with any love story, there’s always a problem, and that problem shows up when Tom’s former girlfriend, Julia (Poppy Miller) arrives. Miller’s performance as the estranged girlfriend seems limited because of her character’s odd lack of offering in the script, although Miller makes good work of what she has. Indeed, Julia’s half brings to a halt the fast-paced, humorous, mood of the performance, although that’s probably the point. Miller is excellent, however, in her frantic portrayal of Tom’s selection of online dates he meets. A particular highlight is her touching rôle as Kimberley, which brings one of the comedy’s more thought-provoking moments.
Designed by Liz Ascroft, the set is Tom’s mid-decorating front room, which is easily, and successfully, manipulated to provide the backdrops for Tom’s many dates. The set is backed by a number of paint colour charts, cleverly highlighting Tom’s indecisive nature for both his wall colour and his love life.
This is a charming play that, despite losing its way a little in the middle, does conquer its limited flaws. The fear of being alone is something in Tom’s character that everyone can see in themselves, but the execution of the humour within this sweet comedy does take the edge off of this fear somewhat.
Runs until 19 December 2015 | Image: Mark Douet