Isla Van Tricht’s new short play Underground explores the quagmire of 21st Century dating, specifically themed around the new (and often bizarre) world of free phone apps such as Once and Tinder. Y-gen kids, Claire and James are at similar points in their lives, both in steady but uninspiring jobs, both mid-twenties with student debts and smoking habits. They take the same tube to work every day but have never met; this all changes when they ‘match’ on Happn, an app that shows people when they’ve crossed paths.

Wittily accurate to the reality of using these apps the play humorously portrays the pairs bumbling attempts to start a love affair.

Wittily accurate to the reality of using these apps the play humorously portrays the pairs bumbling attempts to start a love affair. Self-proclaimed as ‘a site-responsive comedy drama’ the huge narrow arching underground space is utilised well to vaguely resemble a tube carriage with benches arranged in makeshift rows and metro newspapers scattered randomly. Spotlighting and overhead audio projection suitably create the various atmospheres required from bustling bar to trundling night tube (the play was written in anticipation of 24 hour tube travel).

The actors present us with likeable archetypes Claire and James, and accurately portray the mixture of nerves, ambivalence, cautious conversation and awkwardness of a first date charged with sexual chemistry and an obvious, real underlying attraction. Unlike many shows about dating that focus solely on single women, Underground presents a balanced view from the male and female perspective that allows the audience to reflect that anxiety and that loneliness is a common thread amongst both sexes.

The story is slightly spoilt in the last 20 minutes by a confusing sequence that sees the two characters hear voices inside their heads, and the introduction of a third, older character whose purpose is never made clear. Although a good portrayal of a typically effusive and slightly cringe-worthy, wise old barman, it is not quite clear whether this character is supposed to draw the pair together or help them feel better about their own lives as single people. Whichever the answer, it doesn’t quite make sense and a simple comedy drama about two people coming together is unnecessarily complicated by the end, as a result.

Underground works overall however, because it presents no easy platitudes and doesn’t descend into a rom-com fantasy. Rather it is an intelligent patchwork of good and bad moments for our protagonists that accurately reflect real life. Moments of connection, anticipation and excitement sit side by side with disappointment, anger and miscommunication in an accurate exploration of loneliness and the search for love within 21st Century London. 

Reviews by Lettie Mckie

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The Blurb

Following the success of Edinburgh Festival hit The Remnants: As Thyself and Threadbare, and the London transfer of Deadpan Theatre’s Get Your Sh*t Together, Shrapnel Theatre will open the VAULT Festival 2016 with Isla van Tricht’s brand new site-responsive comedy-drama Underground.

People, people everywhere; every one alone.

Claire and James take the same Tube to work, at the same time, every morning. Claire and James drink at the same pub with their same friends, every night. Claire and James have never met.

But all that is about to change when, after matching on a familiar dating app, they meet for an awkward first date. On their way home together, the brand new Night Tube breaks down.

Forced to get to know each other a little better, things start to get weird. Featuring an interfering tannoy system, a wise – if drunk – pub landlord, and a big swipe right, Underground looks at the phenomenon of loneliness in a crowd, and what happens when the daily grind gets disrupted.

Claire and James might never be the same again, but then again they also might be.