Songs Of Grace And Redemption @ Theatre 503, London

cast list
Natasha Alderslade
James Hurn
Robert Reina
Mark Springer
Hannah Young

directed by
Janette Smith
Coincidences and the random ways in which peoples lives can collide, feature prominently in John Donnellys new play.

Songs Of Grace And Redemption focuses on a number of characters whose lives intersect in an anonymous city: among them are Soley, a kooky Icelandic bartender with a violent ex boyfriend; Steve, a taciturn thug-for-hire who devotes much of this time to caring for his learning disabled sister; John, a social worker in an unhappy relationship with Nicola a marketing executive, pining for a time when her life still meant something.

Theres also Peter, with his elaborate scheme to walk through every country on earth, though in actuality he spends all his time in the bar, his wife having just left him for his own father. This happens to be the same bar where Soley works and where Steve, who harbours a crush on her, also regularly frequents. And so, these very different people end up sliding in and out of one anothers lives.

The play has its fair share of nicely comic moments, with some that are very funny indeed. Donnelly can write amusing set-pieces well, however some of the other scenes felt rather derivative (especially one scene where a character tries to coerce another into shooting him, which felt like an over-familiar and tired narrative device) and the coincidence-driven narrative really struggled to take shape on stage. It felt too forced, too obvious, it needed a greater subtly of touch to make it work than was on display here.

Janette Smiths production looks good, the set is striking and it has visual flair, and, from time to time, throws unexpected things at the audience. But it lacked a necessary core, there was nothing holding these people or the play together and, worse, I felt like I kept glimpsing the mechanics of the writing beneath the surface of the stories nothing about it felt organic. There was humour, yes, and strong performances from the cast who perform a number of roles each, but it felt purpose-less and a little lost.

I did like the fact that, in one scene where two characters – old friends who have not been in touch since school – decide to meet in a bar, they arrange their liaison through Facebook. It was a refreshingly recognizable moment, one you could relate to: the awkwardness of their encounter, their need to wallow in shared memories and the comfort they derive from doing so. But this scene stood out in a play where so much felt constructed and coated with a sheen of studied cool.

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