Only a clever or ignorant writer would deliberately choose to begin a play with that most egregious of sitcom clichés: “Hi Honey, I’m home.” So how to describe writer Sam Holcroft? Well, when the woman we see preparing food at the kitchen table turns to greet her apparent husband, the immediate puzzle is her surprise and horror. Then the man – clearly reading from the note-book in his hand – almost immediately starts to look like an inexperienced actor who has failed to get the cue he expected and isn’t very good at improvising.
As you might expect in any rom-com, Nick and Marianne fall for each other, ironically just as their scripted relationship is beginning to fall apart.
After the initial confusion, the couple’s scripted conversation – awkwardly delivered – proves to be utterly mundane, yet it is also completely at odds with how the two characters are physically reacting. And not just when the man’s talk of a salmon supper is immediately contradicted by her bringing out a cooked chicken from the oven. Clever, or ignorant of the basics of theatre?
Disappointingly, perhaps, Holcroft chooses to info-dump what’s going on pretty much in the second scene when we learn that the couple, Marianne and Nick, are members of some underground political resistance movement operating in an Orwellian version of present-day Britain. Specifically, they’re pretending to be a perfectly “normal” couple – the titular Edgar and Annabel, loyal to the Government and never one to question the options open to them – while maintaining one of the movement’s “safe houses” with four gallons of petrochemicals under the roof.
Marianne’s shock the previous evening was simply down to her having never met Nick before; turns out he’s an emergency replacement for the previous “Edgar”, who had unfortunately been arrested for making jokes about an impending election. As is made clear by their superior, the movement requires the pair – who initially have no love for each other – to make the best of the situation and, above all, to keep to the scripted dialogue that will hopefully continue to fool the computer algorithms which eavesdrop on every household conversation in the land.
As you might expect in any rom-com, Nick and Marianne fall for each other, ironically just as their scripted relationship is beginning to fall apart. Their request to “go off-script” is refused, however, when the political situation worsens after the arrest of their political leader. This leads to undoubtedly the funniest scene of the play, when two other resistance members come round for a mock dinner-party, covering the noise of their bomb-preparations with some raucous PlayStation karaoke.
This EUTC production has an able cast – not least Tom Trower and Florence Bedell-Brill as Nick and Marianne – and the script is delivered with sufficient speed and conviction to stop you thinking too much about Holcroft’s more obvious plot-holes – such as the nasty Government’s failure to use CCTV, or how the main character’s daily scripts are securely delivered and then disposed off. There is certainly real emotional impact mined from the simple fact of a stranger suddenly walking in the door as either the latest Edgar or Annabel.
Clever or ignorant? Oh, definitely clever.