Ordinary Dreams @ Trafalgar Studios, London

cast list
James Lance, Adrian Bower, Imogen Slaughter, Sia Berkley

directed by
Adam Barnard

With its references to quantitative easing and credit crunch, along with more general allusions to those little annoyances that punctuate modern life, Marcus Markou’s new comedy is very much a play for 2009.

The play is subtitled ‘How to Survive a Meltdown with Flair’, and that meltdown is suffered by new dad Miles (James Lance) who used to be the creative sort, but somehow ended up working for a faceless company doing something related to market research which no-one can quite pin down, including Miles himself.

Riled to distraction by the litter in the street and the noisy family next door, and terrified of letting down his baby son, Miles descends into a crisis characterised by psychosomatic infirmities (he buys himself a wheelchair when the doctor dares to suggest his aching legs may be stress-related), dreams of running the country and arming himself with a replica medieval mace. His wife Penny, (Imogen Slaughter) meanwhile, is left holding the baby.

In real life, this would be a sad and everyday case of frustration and worry turning into something much more debilitating there is no therapy for the severely disappointed, Miles sighs in one of the stand-out lines of the night but here depression generally manifests itself in ridiculous, comic ways, and the motivation for Miles’s return to fully-functioning member of society is never really explained. The fact that Penny appears to give up on her husband quite quickly also jars slightly, especially when we learn that he supported her when dealing with her own particular demon – alcohol.

Because of these loose ends and inconsistencies, then, the play does not have much of a life beyond the auditorium, and as Markou clearly wants you to discuss the issues over your post-show drink this is a failing. Luckily, though, this doesn’t mean you can’t have a lot of fun while you are still in your seat, thanks to some lovely performances.

Lance sparkles during the dream sequences as a glossy, man of the people, messiah-like politician, but all four members of the cast are a joy to watch. Adrian Bower, who last appeared at Trafalgar Studios in the superlative Elling with John Simm, plays Miles and Penny’s old uni friend Dan, and as always brings immense warmth and charm to his character. Slaughter too makes Penny more than just the put-upon wife, and Sia Berkeley is delightful as the new-agey Layla who uses her hokum mix-and-match beliefs and sunny outlook to genuinely help the other three.

Quite what this play is saying, then, is difficult to fathom, and it certainly has no answers to the problems of 21st century life, unless the point is simply that we’re all going have a crisis at some point or other and can only hope that we ride it out. But while the message is muddled, the acting is so strong that spending 90 minutes in the company of these four friends is nonetheless time well spent.

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