This new play by April De Angelis attempts to be a social satire and comedy, but the playwright goes off in so many different directions, introducing and dropping so many plot lines along the way, violating her own ground rules so repeatedly, and in the process simply forgetting to be funny too much of the time for the result to be anything but a directionless mess.
A well-off couple - he a part-time politician and part-time novelist, she a tabloid journalist - live in a secure gated community in south-east London. Against their better judgement, they have impulsively invited former friends from their past - he a drugs counsellor, she a nurse - to dinner.
It comes as little surprise that old personal and political animosities spring up, though you might have expected at least a stab at polite social veneer before they did, just as it can't be all that much of a shock to discover that one from each couple had had an affair back then. But the premise is so strained that you find your mind wandering to one of the basic questions of Play Writing 101 - why are these people in the same room?
Still, we settle in for what feels like an Edinburgh Fringe revue parody of Hollyoaks, only to have the playwright forget one of her premises, about the gated compound, and let a madwoman from the council estate down the road get in. Claiming to channel the spirit of her dead son, she accuses each of the others of some role in his downfall and death - and suddenly we are in a weak imitation of An Inspector Calls.
But De Angeles soon tires of that character and her whole plot line - or runs out of things to do with her - and dismisses her as an irrelevant digression. The play continues where it left off, as if she had never been there, and one of the original four abruptly commits suicide, leaving the second act primarily about how the other three aren't particularly affected by the event. (Oh, and security is forgotten once again, as scores of people evidently get past the gates to leave flowers at the death scene.)
Putting aside the digressions, internal contradictions and dead ends (There's also something about one of the characters being agoraphobic, and a half-hearted attempt by the adulterers to rekindle their affair), there are at least two separate plays here - the one about the host couple selling out and the one about everyone's complicity in the dead boy's fate (and did I mention that he may not have existed at all?).
They simply don't go together, and the playwright's attempt to shoehorn them into the same evening distracts her from making either of them coherent or particularly funny.
Anthony Clark directs, and a cast that includes Helen Baxendale, Aden Gillett and James Dreyfus work very hard at giving the impression that they believe the characters they are playing.
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Review - Amongst Friends - Hampstead 2009