Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Navigating modern relationships can be treacherous and, while the institution of marriage is now open to couples regardless of their sexuality, for many the concept remains a difficult and outmoded one. Endless rom-coms have introduced us to the idea that we should wait for “the one” so a fictional Prince (or Princess) will ride in and rescue us from our humdrum lives and, in a world where finding a life partner is still considered a reflection of your superiority over single people, marriage can be an end in itself. But are people really settling down, or just settling?
John Fitzpatrick’s play This Much (or An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage) looks at these issues by contrasting the domestic relationship of Gar and Anthony, which is safe, reliable and should inevitably lead to marriage, with Gar’s passionate affair with Albert who shoplifts a packet of biscuits to impress him. Essentially, it’s all about Gar who must decide whether he really wants the picture-perfect reflection of a heterosexual relationship – an ideal of family life that homosexual men have nothing to do with establishing – with a man he doesn’t really love, or a life of exciting but empty encounters.
Fitzpatrick’s play skirts a number of interesting societal challenges, including whether it’s possible to create a lifestyle that rejects conventional relationships while feeling comfortable and confident in those choices. People are, Fitzpatrick, argues a product of their family life and Gar’s problem is being unable to escape the “repression and fear” embedded by his father. But while it tackles large themes, the execution is arguably less effective, relying too often on soap opera constructs, melodrama and opaque symbolism.
The character of Gar, played by Lewis Hart, is incredibly difficult to like and, while considerable effort has gone into making him a rounded and complex person, utilising the issues with his father and the suffocation of his relationship with Anthony, he is entirely self-involved and totally thoughtless about other people’s feelings. As he prevaricates about which man and lifestyle he wants, his behaviour is increasingly alienating and, when things come crashing down later in the play, it’s hard to care.
Anthony and Albert feel very much like secondary parts and not nearly enough thought has gone into fleshing them out. Simon Carroll-Jones has a tendency to over-dramatise in moments of tension, but his Anthony is ultimately the only character that elicits any sympathy, particularly in the discovery of Gar’s infidelity – although where he’s going with a suitcase containing a pair of jeans, two inflated balloons and a packet of cereal is anyone’s guess. While it’s clear he and Gar bring out each other’s frustrations, Anthony is clearly the stronger of the two as the final dance-gymnastics display implies.
Albert (Will Alexander), meanwhile, has virtually no personality at all and his role is only a sexual one, reiterated by repeated nudity – all three actors bare all at some stage and rather unnecessarily. The constant rearrangement of the set and ironic use of classic wedding disco tunes is nicely done and helps to maintain a quick pace as these relationships shift, morph and collapse. This Much feels as though it’s full of potentially interesting ideas and symbols that are currently occluded by the predictable and slightly over-cooked plot. By pulling back on some of the big moments to give them more subtly and adding greater depth to the secondary characters will certainly increase the impact of the show and make a more powerful statement about the complexities of modern relationships.
Runs until 2 July 2016 | Image: SM Publicity