Delivered – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer and Director: Lisa MacGregor

Three years ago a stranger gave Tabitha (“Call me Tabs”) what is perhaps the ultimate gift when she received a liver to replace her own failing organ. But someone else had to die so that Tabs could live and she wants to thank the donor’s family – except that she doesn’t know the donor and her letters sent via the hospital are returned unopened. Undaunted, she “turns all Stacey Dooley” and sifts through public data to search for her donor, eventually going house-to-house posing as a researcher. And so she happens on Tim, a somewhat taciturn Glaswegian, who is now a single parent of a lively schoolgirl, Lily.

At first, Tim really doesn’t want to know. But Tabs’ gauche enthusiasm sparks something in him and he reluctantly gives her his number, as well as a fish finger sandwich, before closing the door in her face. Tabs takes the sandwich as encouragement and redoubles her efforts to get to know Kate, Tim’s wife who lives on, in part, within Tabs. And gradually, Tim softens and one thinks that maybe they have some sort of connection.

Delivered is the debut play from writer and director Lisa MacGregor: it’s a personal project for her as her father benefitted from the transplant program and her family similarly felt the need to thank their lifesaver. And while the piece is largely exploring human nature and two very disparate individuals thrown together by fate, there’s also some educational content slipped in almost unnoticed – so we leave knowing just what proportion of sufferers doesn’t survive to get a transplant, the complex series of events triggered when a liver becomes available and, even, that the anti-rejection drugs mean being ever-watchful on diet, for example, checking that orange juice does not include that of Satsumas.

But the play isn’t all evangelical: at its heart are two mismatched individuals each trying to come to terms with events in their pasts. And there’s plenty of laughs along the way as the characters feel their way forward. Adam Boyle’s Tim can barely function, he’s grown a tough crust but is struggling to move on, still wading through the treacle of the stages of grief. We get glimpses of his chaotic existence through voicemails and texts from his mother, who helps look after his daughter; Lily has her own issues with a distant father following the loss of her mother. Boyle’s performance is understated, his words few. By contrast, Jessica Melia’s Tabs is a bundle of awkward, tactless energy. Rarely still, her face, in particular, is incredibly mobile as a torrent of words spews out of her mouth – and not always the most appropriate words for the situation at that. Melia brings out the contradictions in her character well: we do share her joy that her quest has borne fruit and her puzzlement when Tim at first rejects her and the huge bundle of letters she so desperately wants him to read.

MacGregor carefully avoids any maudlin self-indulgence as the play rattles along. There are some anomalies in the plot – the principal one being why Tim suddenly softens to give Tabs his number – but they can be forgiven. Overall, a promising debut from MacGregor.

Runs until 21 November 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

A Promising Debut

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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