Hampstead Theatre Autumn 2008
The non-British may need to know this - in 1963 a TV documentary interviewed a bunch of seven-year-old kids, and the filmmakers have returned to the same group every seven years since (most recently at age 49 in 2005), measuring who they are now against their dreams and personalities at previous stages.
Alexis Zegerman's new play imagines a similar social experiment, this time with only three participants, chosen to represent the working, middle and upper classes.
We first meet them backstage before the age-49 taping, with flashes back and forward to their other reunions, with special emphasis on 21 and 42.
(The actors are not especially good at playing age differences, and we rely on projected numbers to tell us where we are in time.)
Zegerman labels her play a comedy, and there are some legitimate jokes and ironic laughs along the way. But I think the play she really thought she was writing was an examination of the Heisenberg Principle, the theory that just looking at an experiment affects its outcome.
All three characters complain repeatedly about the ways the program has affected them, all take turns threatening to quit, and yet all keep coming back, some part of their lives having been taken over by the show.
But those themes - the ways they have become public figures and almost fictional characters, and the effect on the psyche of constantly being measured against your own youthful dreams - keep getting pushed aside.
From what I have told you of the play's starting point, you could probably write it, because from that stage on there isn't a single touch of originality or invention.
The money-hungry poor kid will grow up to be a street trader, then a successful small businessman. The posh schoolgirl will be a rebellious punk rocker at 21 but a stereotypical posh matron in her forties. The painfully shy middle class boy will wander unnoticed through university to become a depressed nonentity.
It goes without saying that both men will be attracted to the woman, and that nothing will come of it in either case.
Zegerman's one set of surprises is to have everyone undergo a reversal of fortune between 42 and 49, but even the fact that it happens to all three makes it schematic and predictable (No points for guessing who writes a book on how to overcome depression).
So, with the potentially most interesting insights - about how the experiment affects the lab rats - repeatedly pushed aside to focus on how uninterestingly predictable their lives have been, there isn't a whole lot here to hold us and, the occasional stray line aside, not a whole lot of comedy.
With characters defined as stereotypes with few surprises in them, the actors - David Kennedy (working class), Jonny Weir (middle) and Susannah Harker (posh) - can't do much to make individuals out of them, and director Anthony Clark doesn't seem to have helped a lot.
Liz Ascroft's set - a particularly bare backstage area, saying volumes about how little the TV people really think of their stars - makes a sharper social comment than almost anything else in the play or production.
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