One of Those – Tristan Bates Theatre, London

Writer: Tom Ward-Thomas
Director: Amy Ewbank
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Wilde’s character Gwendolen Fairfax may have needed to take her diary for sensational train entertainment, but on any railway journey, the compression of hundreds of people means that any number of intimate human dramas are being played out across the carriages. This is the central concept of Tom Ward-Thomas’s new play, One of Those, currently showing at the Tristan Bates Theatre, which gives a new twist to a classic theatre scenario trapping a group of characters together in a confined space and allowing the tensions to simmer over.

In a little over an hour, Ward-Thomas offers two different stories about people meeting on the same train from London to Cornwall, with a shorter concluding piece on the return journey. In one carriage Laura and James get talking when she needs help with her crossword and start to pass judgement on each other’s lives. Meanwhile nearby, Philip is on a weekend away with his mistress Davina, except neither of them were banking on bumping into Alice, Philip’s wife. As the train nears its final destination all of the characters find that the journey has changed everything.

One of Those is a sharply written Ayckbourn-like comedy which revels in the awkward silences and tensions of human interaction. In the first pairing of Laura and James, Ward-Thomas cleverly taps into the need for some travellers to unburden themselves to complete strangers, speaking more candidly about their private lives than they do to their own families. It’s nicely constructed and instead of playing the two scenes concurrently as Ayckbourn does with Separate Tables and Bedroom Farce, here each story is given its own discrete slot which actually draws the audience more fully into each tale.

There are plot links between the stories which are almost superfluous because there is enough thematic harmony for them to stand alone, and the weakest point here is that is slightly too tidy in its attempt to bring everyone together; the last scene arguably being entirely unnecessary. Without it there are plenty of interesting comments on modern relationships and the train journey backdrop is a perfect metaphor for the transient state of most of the characters, particularly in the face of major life choices about choosing a partner, ending a marriage and having children.

The ensemble work extremely well together with Amy Newton (Laura) and writer Ward-Thomas (James) capturing the uncomfortable interaction of virtual strangers. Martin Ball swings between happiness, despair and consternation as Philip, while Louise Bangay is a suitably shocked and shaky Alice trying to come to terms with her husband’s infidelity. Some of the best moments involve a nicely written three-way conversation between Philip, Alice and the mortified Davina (Emma Kelly) as loyalties shift and different pairings align and attack each other, often switching within a moment between compliments and hostility, which is a real high point and very well performed.

Although some of the plotting is a little unlikely, One of Those is a fine comedy that has plenty of momentum. Matt James’s train carriage set serves the action well, especially with the familiarly patterned and well-worn seats, although you don’t always get the sense there is a full carriage of people, especially as the actors don’t behave as though their intimate secrets are being overheard by the people around them. Still maybe on the next long train journey, it will encourage us to put down our diaries and listen to the voices on the train.

Runs until13 February 2016 | Image: Jamie Scott-Smith

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