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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Hopelessly Devoted
Tricycle Theatre  April 2014

Despite a poor title that makes it sound like it might be a bubblegum musical, Kate Tempest's new play for Paines Plough and the Birmingham Rep is a serious drama with music that addresses several big themes and actually manages to do them justice until its clear-headed stance is weakened by a sentimentality and soft centre that reaches too hard for something like a happy ending. 

Cellmates Chess and Serena find some comfort in their love from the combined pain of incarceration and separation from their children, so much so that Chess can say that prison feels 'more like home than any house I ever lived in'. 

The prospect of Serena's parole frightens both of them, raising the serious question of who will be worse off, Serena in the outside world she is not equipped to deal with or Chess facing years on her own. 

Meanwhile Silver, a former music producer brought low by her drug abuse, is beginning her own journey back up by running a prison programme for potential singer-songwriters. Slowly overcoming Chess's suspicions, she offers her an opportunity for self-expression that might help her through her turmoil. 

But will putting her soul into songs that will be heard and judged by others only increase Chess's vulnerability and pain rather than alleviating it? 

In an intense eighty minutes that includes several of Chess's half-rapped half-sung compositions, Kate Tempest, directors Stef O'Driscoll and James Grieve, and the three actresses bring all of these questions alive, and you feel that only the need for the play to have some resolution forces the playwright to answer some of them a bit more complacently than she'd wish. 

Cat Simmons (Chess), Michelle Gayle (Silver) and Gbemisola Ikumelo (Serena), each also doubling as various secondary figures, fully inhabit their roles and keep the story human and engaging, never lapsing into either sociological case study or polemic.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Hopelessly Devoted - Tricycle Theatre 2014

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