mon 22/07/2024

Hard Feelings, Finborough Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Hard Feelings, Finborough Theatre

Hard Feelings, Finborough Theatre

Doug Lucie's snarky comedy-drama brings Thatcher-era Britain to the boil

Girls just want to have fun? Isabella Laughland and Zora Bishop play housemates in 1980s Brixton `Hard Feelings'Simon Annand

Doug Lucie's signature spikiness remains intact, and then some, in the Defibrillator production of Hard Feelings, which is sure to pack out west London's tiny Finborough and might well be a candidate for a transfer.

Telling of the various meltdowns, betrayals, and shifting alliances in a shared house in Brixton while riots rage just beyond the front door (the year is 1981), the play serves as a reminder of the invaluable prickliness offered up by Lucie, who takes the measure of his Oxford colleagues and comes away as aghast as an audience is likely to be enthralled. 

Jesse Fox as Rusty at the Finborough, June 2013The house belongs to Viv (Isabella Laughland, inheriting a role originated by Frances Barber), or, rather, to her parents, who tellingly don't make an appearance until just that moment as the play calls it quits. Instead, we watch six 20somethings jockey for their share of control of a space - and, by extension, a society - rife with change, and not only because there's a woman settling into Downing Street for the first time. The flamboyant Rusty (Jesse Fox, pictured above) changes girlfriends as easily as he sheds his clothes, while shared intimacies devolve into hostile silences that turn a home seconds from the south London frontline of the time into a war zone all its own. (The action of the play spans a period shy of six weeks.)

And while some may turn off to the casual cruelties that emerge, their escalations are at every turn registered by an outsider to the group, the working-class journalist Tone (Callum Turner, terrific, pictured below left with Zora Bishop), who lives in a council flat in Battersea and has "authorial surrogate" stamped all over him. That said, Lucie's skill lies in taking us inside an assemblage of people that he knows too well simply to dismiss, and it's to the credit of all concerned, director James Hillier included, that the characters always emerge as individuals first and points on the social, political, and class spectrum second.   

Callum Turner and Zora Bishop in Hard FeelingsStephanie Williams's set, decked out with the appropriate appliances (not to mention record albums) of the time, gives off the feeling of a parental home that, whatever its size, isn't big enough for the egos contained within - which may provide an additional reason, social unrest notwithstanding, why Viv talks of making the migratory shift northward to Chelsea. While the "New Romantic" cokehead that is the self-dramatising Rusty locks lips with every woman in sight, using sex as a weapon to get his way, Baz (Nick Blakeley) ponders his lot as someone who is both single and from the North, and Blakeley does well by the gin-fuelled outpouring toward which the part builds.  

The action pivots around the gathering ostracism directed at Tone's lawyer-girlfriend, Jane (Zora Bishop, her ever-alert eyes a play in themselves), the lone Jewish housemate who takes justifiable umbrage at a surrounding insensitivity that comes to a crescendo of sorts with Rusty's dismissive remark that the Holocaust is "a bit one-sided". Cue a ramping up in tension that finds Rusty referencing the "hard feelings" of the title, even as a last-minute search for Vivaldi lands proceedings on a musically upbeat note, but don't be fooled. Times may have changed, but the divisiveness and anger off of which the play feeds so exhilaratingly walk among us still.

  • Hard Feelings at the Finborough Theatre, London SW10, until 6 July
Shared intimacies devolve into hostile silences that turn a home seconds from the south London frontline of the time into a war zone all its own


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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