Writer: EV Crowe
Director: Joe Murphy
Reviewer: Ian Foster
EV Crowe’s latest play Virgin comes to us under the auspices of Watford Palace’s Ideal World season, exploring the way that the digital revolution has impacted on human relationships, but it crowbars so much into its 80 minutes that the brief ends up feeling a little constrictive. Working mother Emily toils away in local government and is determined that a project to bring high-speed broadband to her rural village will be the springboard to get her out of the admin office. But with a younger, web-savvy generation snapping at her heels, she is forced to confront the limitations of her own bandwidth.
Laura Elphinstone imbues the spiky Emily with a remarkably conflicted complexity – her ambition thwarted by men, her maternal instinct disguised by stress, her warmly hesitant optimism at connecting the village tempered by her treatment of loyal husband Mark, Michael Shelford adorable in a range of chunky knits. And she is contrasted well by Rosie Wyatt as cuckoo-in-the-nest Sally, the consultant who comes to stay in their home while helping out on the project and the embodiment of a tech-confident but socially-awkward youth, happier online than IRL.
But though the play starts off seeming as if its focus is going to be about the effect of increased communication on rural communities, it twists and turns through sexual politics in the office, gender politics in the home, issues of self-belief and understanding one’s own limits – technology becomes less and less important as the play becomes thematically cluttered and its messages confused. At times, one can see the research spilling out – statistics about the vast proportion of web content being generated by white men, the gender pay divide in local government, but they’re not woven into the fabric of the writing, lacking the import they ought to bring.
Crowe has certainly hit on an interesting topic here yet in its current state, Virgin feels more like a piece with potential. The relationships could all be developed further, particularly with Simon Darwen’s ambitious work colleague and twerp Thomas, which would encourage a greater empathy which is currently lacking with the writing. And it would also allow her explore her various arenas in greater depth – to convince us that the wider village community are actually in need of the golden fleece of high-speed broadband, to actually demonstrate the toxicity of Emily’s office environment, to make her domestic arrangement feel like that of a human being – would it kill her to acknowledge her baby? A work in progress.