It’s a well-worn formula: Man-child isn’t ready to completely give himself over to his relationships, ensnared as he is in a mentality of self-interest and a fear of commitment and it takes the stern voice of a new perspective to change this.
At thirty-four, Mark Leeson isn’t ready to grow up and now he faces life as a single man, having just lost his girlfriend of four-and-a-half years over some trivial issue. Let’s be honest, the matters that Leeson and Rachael Hilton are tackling in Concrete Duvet are nothing new, rehashed countless times before. In fact, the very premise of this piece – that his Conscience looks at his former relationships to suss out exactly where he’s been going wrong – is uncanny in its resemblance to the plot of that awful film, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had here. The hackneyed subject matter is made enjoyable and the fact that it is so owes a debt to the likeability of the two actors, whose witty repartee far outshines that of the Girlfriends Past cast. Leeson plays his character with a puppyish enthusiasm and he is offset well by Hilton’s Conscience, a dry but affectionate straight-talker. They bounce off each other with a dialogue both fluid and amusing; a tone well-judged and embedded in realism even if the situation is not. The show would entirely fall apart were it not for this.
Hilton is particularly good, though admittedly she has the opportunity to play a variety of characters in a way not afforded to her counterpart. Still, she plays each with affection and acute comic insight. One minute she’s a Spanish senorita and the next she’s Kevin, Mark’s gay friend; one minute, the coy nymphomaniac and the next the vulnerable first love. Between each, she returns to a well-pitched Conscience, who nags without becoming a self-parody or unpleasant company for the audience, striding around the stage as she puts the mess of Leeson’s room to rights.
This leads to the inevitable clean-room moralisation at the end of the show – something about loving yourself before yada yada yada. It’s a bit ham-fisted, but nevertheless too innocuous to ignite any ire within me. In fact, it is otherwise a quite subtle end to the piece. We didn’t have the ex-girlfriend show up and make everything better – Leeson simply looks at this clean room with an air of satisfaction and then, slowly, leaves.
It’s a bit of a misrepresentation to say that this is an exploration of relationships – insights hardly get any more profound than that people in relationships have sex – but I left the theatre feeling satisfied and, unlike when I watch Girlfriends Past, with my fists unclenched.