Anything is Possible if You Think About It Hard Enough – Southwark Playhouse, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Cordelia O’Neill

Director: Kate Budgen

The chance encounter, the “meet-cute”, is the backbone of most romantic comedies. Cordelia O’Neill’s play Anything is Possible if You Think About It Hard Enough starts with just such a chance meeting, as city money man Rupert (Huw Parmenter), immaculately dressed and with a precautionary umbrella tucked under his arm, bumps into Gemma Lawrence’s scruffy, free-wheeling Alex.

The progression of their romance is classic rom-com material. O’Neill’s script fizzes with delightful moments, as the couple’s different backgrounds (he, an adoptee of a single mum to whom he’s devoted, her the product of an estranged New Age family) result in contrasting but complementary personalities.

The progression of Rupert and Alex’s relationship across a series of scenes progresses pleasingly, as the couple learn to live with each other’s foibles. The comedy continues as the pair prepare for impending parenthood by choosing colours to paint the nursery, quibbling about money, and discussing names for their daughter-to-be, Rose.

But the day of the birth is when everything changes. For despite all the preparations for a little girl, Alex gives birth to a boy. But he is not crying, and is pronounced dead.

All the warmth that O’Neill and director Kate Budgen elicit for the couple comes to fruition here, as we share their grief for the life they have lost.

The manifestation of that grief and the techniques Alex, in particular, uses to delay acceptance of her loss, form the backbone of the second half of the play. Her series of repetitive actions, from painting to clothes folding, along with a refusal to accept the gender of the couple’s lost child becomes heartbreaking as we, with Rupert, look on powerless to break the cycle into which she has found herself falling.

Both Lawrence and Parmenter successfully convey the confusion of sudden grief as they battle in their own ways, their different family backgrounds once more playing into the choices they make and how they risk driving each other away. But O’Neill is wise enough to not completely abandon humour altogether; even in the darkest moments, we crack jokes to take the edge off the pain, and that is captured so well here.

The path back to normality – if there can ever be such a thing after such a traumatic incident – is trodden carefully, lightly, but with deliberate care. As Alex and Rupert begin to find a way to heal, to learn to hold each other again, O’Neill’s play captures a sense of grief, loss and acceptance that lingers long after the house lights come up.

Continues until 9 October 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

A lightly handled tragedy of infant mortality

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