The Priory @ Royal Court, London

cast list
Jessica Hynes, Rachael Stirling, Rupert Penry-Jones, Alastair Mackenzie, Charlotte Riley, Nick Blood, Joseph Millson

directed by
Jeremy Herrin
New Years Eve is a dramatists dream. Its both a time for reflection, for looking back over the past years highs and lows, as well as the night where people tend to fret and worry about what the future might bring, usually fuelled by a steady stream of alcohol so theres an awful lot for a playwright to play with.

Michael Wynnes new comic drama takes advantage of just such an emotional cocktail.

Kate, a writer of short stories with a novel in the works, has rented a country house, a former priory miles away from anywhere, with wood-panelled walls, stained glass windows and a stags head mounted above the fireplace.
Shes had a rough year, things havent gone particularly well for her either career-wise or relationship-wise, and she wants to spend the night in the company of those she cares about.

Gradually her friends arrive to join her: theres Daniel, a gay, unattached architect, and Ben, who has brought along his brand new young fiance. Theres also Karl and his wife Rebecca, who are barely capable of behaving cordially towards one another without ingesting large amounts of coke.

This set-up is a familiar one, part Peters Friends, part And Then There Were None. Theyre so far out in the sticks that a mobile phone signal is all but impossible to locate and all the various creaks and rustles outside the window are starting to make them jumpy, but when trouble comes it takes the form, not of spectral monks, but of more solid things: secrets and recriminations, which – inevitably – during the course of the evening, bubble to the surface and threaten to spill over.

Wynnes play is sharply written and often very funny, if rather conventional in structure and execution. It is at times ploddingly predictable its no big surprise that Laura, Bens chirpy, dim girlfriend of barely a day soon starts to get peoples nerves or that something darker lurks beneath her perky banal surface but the pacing of Jeremy Herrins production and the slickness of the script both go some way to blunting the teeth of these little niggles.

Jessica Hynes (Daisy from Spaced) does an excellent job of making Kate the plays necessary emotional centre. Her growing sense of isolation, even when surrounded by the people she considers friends is palpable and poignant, and her realisation that her life has not and may never turn out the way she had envisaged is sensitively and engagingly portrayed. Wynne taps into something very recognisable, the feeling of being left behind as friends and acquaintances pair-off and reproduce.

Children, or their absence, provide a running thread throughout the play. Rachel Stirlings shrill Rebecca, a career minded TV producer and archetypal yummy mummy, cant seem to help herself from talking incessantly about her ever so clever little darlings, Archie and Clementine, and about how having children is the most satisfying thing a woman can do, oblivious to how upset Kate is getting.

Stirling is impressive in what is a fairly unsympathetic role, giving shape and substance to a woman who is at times rather one-note, while Rupert Penry-Jones is rather overshadowed as her duplicitous husband, Karl. But really its only Hynes and Joseph Millson, as Daniel who feels similarly pushed aside, his lifestyle deemed somehow less valid by his friends who come across as whole, rounded human beings, people its possible to care about.

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