Peter and Vandy @ Theatre 503, London

cast list
Kirsty Bushell, Joseph Chance

directed by
Tim Roseman
Joe DiPietro’s Peter and Vandy is a romantic comedy which prides itself on a single idiosyncrasy: that it does not unfold chronologically.

In doing so DiPietro hopes to tell us something about the central relationship by surprising us with his juxtapositions.

Thus we open somewhere in the middle of things, when everything is going well and the future promises much. The story then proceeds to jump back and forth, often without clear signposts signifying the time period.
Seemingly irreparable endings are followed immediately by earnest beginnings and the play moves swiftly from awkward first kisses to blazing rows. When we reach the apparent conclusion, were left with an ambiguity. Can we be sure weve been dealt the final hand, or should we reshuffle the pack again?

Nonlinear narratives, of course, are nothing new, so its a shame Peter and Vandy offers little else. It seems to be hoping that its one conceit will prove charming enough to carry it along. Yet, despite the significant passage of time covered by the events of the play, the characters lack depth and the broken chronology exacerbates the feeling that they’re constructs, not people.

The New York setting seems entirely incidental and the dialogue lacks any real teeth, which particularly damages a play which is obsessed with the minutiae of relationships. What DiPietro does well is to show that the key to unlocking any relationship lies as much in the mundane and workaday as in the obvious flashpoints. This means a pointless argument about a sandwich is angrier and more emotionally charged than the couple’s breakup.

However, while Peter and Vandys bickering may bring a wry smile of recognition to some of the audience, the lack of meaningful insight makes it all seem somehow inconsequential.

Tim Roseman’s deceision to have the actors change their costumes on stage is a nice touch and allows them a level of playfulness with their characters. Indeed, it is the cast which saves the production, with both actors in this two-hander delivering captivating performances. Joseph Chances Peter is a picture of faltering, love-struck neurosis. In particular he is pleasingly awkward when portraying the young Peters first tentative romantic advances, wearing long shorts and clutching a six-pack.

Kirsty Bushells Vandy is even more engrossing, moving seamlessly back and forth from frustrated to sexy and angry to playful as the mood shifts. As a pair the two of them capture the uneasy, not-quite-chemistry of the relationship perfectly.

The production is aided by Richard Howells clever lighting, which allows for swift shifts in time and location on the relatively sparse set, and by Fergus OHares sound work. The music choices which soundtrack the costume changes work well to bridge the changing moods from scene to scene, and the sampled dialogue from The West Wing and other television shows gives a sense that were watching something real, something which is lacking in the characterisation.

There is certainly much that is recognisable in this play, but its not saying anything particularly new or original. It’s a well-directed and polished piece of theatre but theres a spark missing. I didnt fall in love with it.

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