Jab – Finborough Theatre, London

Reviewer: Dulcie Godfrey

Writer: James McDermott

Director: Scott Le Crass

As a pandemic unfolds, a marriage breaks down. James McDermott’s new production Jab sees a pandemic setting provide the catalyst for the breakdown of a relationship of 29 years. The outside world descends into chaos whilst the sanctity and safety of home becomes a battleground for bickering, anger, anti-vaxxers, and heartbreak. Punchy, funny and moving, Jab is a solid dark comedy debuting in West London’s Finborough Theatre.

Four chairs confine the cast of two to the intimate stage, representative of families, couples and singles confined to their houses during the 2020 lockdowns. Anne (Kacey Ainsworth), an NHS worker and the breadwinner of the household, and her husband Don (Liam Tobin), manager of a slow-moving vintage shop, watch TV as Boris Johnson announces the lockdowns of 2020.

But they’re not really listening, instead, they’re bickering. Because they’re almost always bickering, jibing, jabbing at each other in front of the TV. Don is useless, doesn’t bring in money, can’t even call the accountant to sort out the COVID business grant for his failing shop. Anne is menopausal and fed up with Don, but after 29 years, they know each other intrinsically. But as the death toll rises, playful jabs and jibes become biting, angry; the marriage begins to collapse as the world does. But at least lockdown will be over in three months, right?

McDermott’s writing is at its most dynamic exploring the complexities underneath the revelation of Don’s anti-vax mentality. Not just representative of the dangers of vaccine hesitancy and misinformation, but hugely interesting ruminations of masculinity, gender, domestic power balances, and how a relationship settles after almost three decades. Tobin powerfully embodies Don as a man fiercely apathetic, and infuriating but also lost in a way that builds sympathy.

Ainsworth in turn is the perfect balance, the endlessly suffering wife full of dedication to her family but forced to reassess her agency and values. Under Scott Le Crass’ instruction, the pair traverse the stage, forced to exist simultaneously in discomfort, confined not just by the pandemic but by marriage and convention itself. Their bickering is believable, their relationship as comfortable as it is fraught. A truly genuine feeling of marriage.

There are times, however, when the episodic nature of the production causes dips in energy. In the throes of martial breakdown, there are long drawn-out pauses, empty wine glasses in hand, that are very effective and powerful; but equally, there are a few that feel misplaced. During Don’s inevitable illness particularly, the pace slows, and the action feels stretched. The production emphasises the typical warnings about misinformation, conspiracies, and hesitancy; a worthy message, but something we’ve all experienced and not nearly as powerful as the deep study of marital relationships.

The quoting of the death toll as the production continues is an effective reminder of the naivety of the early days of the pandemic, the comfort in the thought it would only be a few weeks. But as the production continues, the repetition of numbers sways slightly into cliché.

A punchy dark comedy with a twist on a relatable setting, Jab is another of Finborough Theatre’s impressive showings of 2024.

Runs until 16 March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Punchy, gripping, and important

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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