Royal Court Theatre, London – until 11 August 2018
You can tell you’re in a posh family house on stage when there’s salad on the table with a meat meal. One For Sorrow (the F must be capitalised, so we’re parked at Pretention Central right from the off) pitches us firmly in the smart home of urban liberals Bill and Emma (Neil Dudgeon and Sarah Woodward, both excellent), and their two bright but furiously defensive teen-to-twenty daughters.
Emma works in human rights legislation, but either from authorial laziness or a means to downplay the patriarchal role, Bill’s career isn’t defined. They both drink a lot of white wine on a week night, which is Young Writers’ Scheme shorthand for self-indulgent rich folks.
Cordelia Lynn has a clear ear for domestic badinage and the first act could be Mike Leigh were it not for the fact the drama down the road is marginally more upsetting than Abigail’s Party. A Bataclan type attack has escalated into full-scale mayhem and the body count climbs inexorably during the evening. The older daughter has tweeted #OpenDoor offering shelter to someone who can’t get home.
What arrives is an anxious British Asian man with a heavy parka he won’t remove and a bulging backpack. The parents jump to the conclusions you’ve just considered, while the snapchat-radicalised daughters champion openness, inclusion and snogging the bloke.
It’s a clever concept, but while the dialogue is well-written the agenda is clunkingly obvious from about page 2. We should just hug everyone of any differing values or opinion, and not call urban bombing of civilians terrorism. I’m about two hundred years too old for that sort of debate, but the opening night audience received it well.
Lynn says she’s exploring ‘fear culture’ which I didn’t really know was a thing – but it’s apparently what fuels any resistance to letting teenagers make government policy. There’s certainly a sense of being manipulated, and fed misinformation, but the very fact your reactions are inconclusive means the play has made its point.
The whole cast is impressive and naturalistic, and consistent in tone from the always-watchable Woodward to newcomer Kitty Archer as Chloe: the naturalism a neat touch in James Macdonald’s direction which smartly glosses some of the deliberately absurdist script.
For all my scepticism about the views expressed by some characters, I decidedly think is impressive work from a playwright to be taken seriously and it’s only very slightly too long and under-resolved.