The Amber Trap  –  Theatre503, London

Writer: Tabitha Mortiboy

Director:  Hannah Hauer-King

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

Unfortunately, there is a line in The Amber Trap, Theatre503’s new play, when one character explains her girlfriend’s behaviour by saying, ‘She’s joking, it’s just that she’s not funny.’ This observation just about sums up the whole show.

Lovers Hope and Katie work in a corner shop in the Manchester area, but it’s hard to tell what time period the play is set in. The convenience store, designed by Jasmine Swan, looks like Granville’s shop in Open All Hours with goods unreachable on lofty shelves, and discounted sandwiches in the fridge. With Alanis Morissette playing on the radio the play could be set in the 1990s, but the produce being sold seems contemporary and one character mentions Poundland.

Despite the fact that the shop appears to have no customers – and why would anyone want to shop in this place that time forgot – manager Jo has been told by head office that she needs to employ another member of staff. She takes on Michael, an 18-year-old, who wants to be doctor, and suddenly three’s a crowd.

Apart from the last ten minutes of this play, very little happens and so director Hannah Hauer-King is forced to drag out the 80-minute running time by having long scenes of characters emptying boxes or fixing their hair in the mirror. The mop and bucket appear so many times, they probably have equity cards.

Potential storylines peter out into nothing, and the actors are left stranded with little to do. Fanta Barrie gives Hope some feistiness, which complements the seriousness of Olivia Rose Smith’s Katie, but it’s hard to believe that these two are in a loving relationship. Jenny Bolt is wasted as Jo, and her weary character is underdeveloped to such an extent that the play could easily work without her. As Michael, Misha Butler tries very hard, but, again, Tabitha Mortiboy’s script gives him very little to go on.

The title of the play may suggest that the four characters and their dreary shop are fossilised in some way, caught in an amber trap. But sadly, this feeling of being trapped also extends to the audience, and some of us couldn’t wait until someone put up a closed sign in the window.

Runs until  18 May 2019 | Image: Tristram Kenton

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