ComedyReviewSouth West

Invincible – Exeter Northcott

Writer: Torben Betts
Director: Chris Harper
Reviewer:Kelyn Luther

Invincible invites comparison with Alan Ayckbourn’s work in its tragicomic look at domestic life. The play explores the north-south class divide, as middle-class southerners Emily (Emily Bowker) and Oliver (Alastair Whatley) move up North and attempt to befriend their neighbours, football-loving Alan (Graeme Brookes) and his glamorous wife Dawn (Kerry Bennett).

The set-up is ripe for comedy and the first act of the play is broadly comic, with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments such as when Alan asks Emily’s professional opinion on his amateurish paintings of his beloved pet cat. Although Alan is dressed as a beer-swilling slob, Brookes makes him a warm sympathetic character.

The least sympathetic character by far is Emily, an insufferable hypocrite who evangelises about community but looks down her nose at her neighbours, insulted by their working class. Bowker is given little opportunity to show much sympathy; the way that Betts has written the role makes Emily so awful in Act One that despite the personal tragedy revealed in Act Two, it is hard to muster any feelings towards her.

The question of whose side Betts is on is too obvious in how the couples are characterised; this is fine for the comedy of the first act but when the second act strives towards dramatic emotion, the broad strokes become a disadvantage. Betts is comfortable with portraying the hypocrisy of middle-class attitudes and there are some knowing details of the lifestyle but he lacks the familiarity with the working class so it feels as if the exploration of the north-south divide is superficial.

There are some nice details – the toy train at the start of the show travelling along the track is a clever representation of Emily and Oliver’s naïve ambition to reject London for a Northern suburb. Victoria Spearing’s set design is an impressively faithful rendering of the interior of a middle-class house and this helps to add some realness when the play feels as if it’s occasionally slipping into cliché.

Ironically, the clichés are at their worst in the second act, almost as if Betts was ticking the boxes of what plays of this genre include. It has more of a plot than the first act but it feels as if the audience is being short-changed. Director Chris Harper tries to marry the two halves; a topical comedy that hits the mark is better than reverting back to tried-and-tested formula for drama. The odd shift in tone also means that the ending feels abrupt.

While Invincible lacks the enduring appeal of Ayckbourn’s better plays, Betts does succeed in capturing the patriotic feelings of 2012, when the Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee meant that the seemingly old-fashioned concept of patriotism was at a height. With the EU referendum coming up, this seems like a good time to revive the play.

Runs until 11 June 2016, then touring until 18 June 2016 | Image: OriginalTheatre Company

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