Hampstead Theatre, London – until 3 March 2019
Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living focuses on two carers and the people they care for. Eddie (Adrian Lester) is looking after his soon to be ex-wife Ani (Katy Sullivan) who is quadriplegic after a terrible accident and Jess (Emily Barber) has just been employed to help PhD student John (Jack Hunter) who has cerebral palsy.
While Ani and John are totally reliant on their carers for physical assistance, Eddie and Jess are equally needy in their own way. We are first introduced to Eddie who is in a bar, buying the barman drinks as penance when he gets gloomy about a recent bereavement.
Majok doesn’t always give Eddie the words to explain his thoughts but it is all there in Lester’s nuanced performance. It is a gripping opening but the play stumbles a little as it moves into its middle section.
We are introduced to John and Jess – the former is interviewing the latter for the job of being his carer. John is confident and direct while Jess is more of a mystery. We know from her CV that she’s had a good education but has subsequently had a string of dead-end jobs. It’s something that bothers John, particularly given the intimate nature of the work she’ll have to undertake. When the action shifts back to Eddie he is trying to ingratiate his way into Ani’s good books.
However, the time sequence has shifted and it takes a while to work out how, which becomes a bit of a distraction. It’s not until the final scene where narratives overlap that you get to fully appreciate the scenes that have gone before.
While it is clever it doesn’t wholly negate the confusion generated by those early middle scenes.
Structure aside, Cost of Living is a refreshingly bold play, it presents disability in a matter of fact way focusing on relationships while challenging inhibitions.
It also challenges the idea of what it means to live and the cost of that life. While John may be able to do little for himself it is Jess that it trapped in a life with little fulfilment and comfort.
Ani’s relationship with Eddie is a fun and funny one to watch but it is Eddie who needs her more than she needs him.
In fact Cost of Living feels almost like Eddie’s play but I wonder how much of that is down to Adrian Lester’s magnetic performance.
It’s an hour and 55 minutes without an interval and I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
See it at the Hampstead Theatre until 3 March.