Wine makes a return to the Tristan Bates Theatre following its successful run earlier in the year. It is one of three plays by Jack West currently showing as part of the LAGO Theatre Season. On this occasion he has handed over its direction to Harry Blumenau. Combined with recasting one of the characters the end result is something of a mixed bag, although I didn’t see the previous production.
An insightful work that leaves much food for thought.
Mark (Tobi Faladé) shares a rather uninviting flat with his younger brother, whom we never see. Somewhat flustered, he attempts to make both the room and himself look vaguely presentable for a date who is minutes away from arrival. There is more tension than even a first encounter might create when Sam (Harriet Clarke) walks through the door he has left open in his haste. This is anything but their first meeting, although they have not seen each other for over a year. Will it go well or end with lives spent permanently apart? They have much to discuss and even more to come to terms with both individually and jointly if there is ever to be another together or indeed if any normality is to be restored to their lives.
As the company’s publicity material gives it away, it’s no spoiler to say that the central debate revolves around the issue of abortion. The reminiscences, the dealings with parents, the demands of a glittering Hollywood career for her and life as a struggling writer and supply teacher for him are all brought up as topics that surround the same issue that can never go away. West has carefully crafted the abortion arguments, covering the ground in highly personalised and intimate exchanges. This is no abstract debate but one that will remain forever in the hearts and minds of those mixed up in it.
The more the wine loosens their tongues, the more their inner feelings are revealed, but even without it they could expound their thoughts; they know very well what they think and feel. The discussion is interspersed with moments of romantic respite before it all collapses and raging arguments ensue, making it abundantly clear why they split up. It’s not made as easy as taking sides and they both have much to say that makes sense and seems convincing as the pendulum of who has the upper hand swings back and forth. The problem is that it finds no resting point.
Faladé brings out the inner turmoil, sensitivity and element of naivety inherent in his character. He’s a gentle man going down a road he wished didn’t exist. Clarke carries off the hard veneer of a woman with conflicting priorities but leaves no doubt that she too has suffered torment and anguish. Yet, despite the intensity of their exchanges and well-expressed feelings an element of credibility seems missing from their relationship. It’s intellectually stimulating to hear the debate placed in a highly personalised context but the chemistry between the two, even in moments that might lead to sexual passion, just seems to lack depth. It’s as though they weren’t made for each other from the outset, despite everything else.
Wine makes an intelligent and potentially moving contribution to a delicate and controversial subject which will undoubtedly be challenging to watch for many who have been through similar situations. For everyone, however, it is an insightful work that leaves much food for thought.