Spot the cliché. James (Toby Vaughan) likes superheroes, video games, and not talking about his feelings; Heather (Olivia Elsden) likes berating her partner, talking about their future baby, and berating her partner some more. It’s hackneyed stuff. And it’s worse onstage than when described.
So cheaply constructed and glibly delivered as to be thoroughly anticlimactic.
Now, lazy characterisation isn't a problem per se. Clichés — when part of an otherwise powerful, well-written, or just brainlessly fun story — can be forgiven. But with a play like Communicate, such laziness is too prevalent to be ignored. Take the play’s dialogue, for example, which, described as generously as possible, lacks polish. James is apparently a great lover of superheroes, never seen without his Silver Surfer t-shirt or a full-body Spiderman suit. Yet at one point the scriptwriter has confused a superhero’s catchphrase — ‘It’s clobberin’ time’ — with MC Hammer’s. It’s an unimportant detail, sure, but symptomatic of a pervasive lack of care.
Another example: there's an excruciating scene wherein James plays on his Xbox, and Vaughan is forced to deliver a monologue so stereotypically, embarrassingly ‘gamey’ that it’s almost unbearable. He does his best with the material, but his character, it seems, has changed from a soon-to-be father in his late twenties into a twelve year-old boy during the scene transition. Another vacuous stereotype — check.
The three actors — Vaughan, Elsden and Gareth Watkins, who plays James’ dad — gave decent performances, individually. There is, however, a fatal lack of chemistry onstage. In theory, the relationships we see are between a romantically involved couple, and between a father and his son. Yet if the dialogue didn’t say so, you might not guess they’re meant to be so close. With Vaughan and Watkins’ conversations, especially, lacked spark. It never felt like a father and son arguing, or reminiscing, or helping each other through the grieving process; it was just two people standing on stage, delivering their lines not quite to each other.
There are moments of good acting, and a couple interesting emotional beats. There are moments, too, of humour. And there are moments which have the shape of humour, but aren’t funny. But there aren’t enough of these moments to make the play itself any good. Communicate limps along until the end, when, before it lets us go, it concludes with a smug, unearned twist that’s almost clever. But it’s so cheaply constructed and glibly delivered as to be thoroughly anticlimactic.