AGAIN. Or maybe it should be Again, Again and Again.
This ambitious play by Stephanie Jacob focuses on a fractured family. Home breaker Tom (Chris Larkin) has a five year child (Chloe) with girlfriend Sheena who is pregnant. He is dishevelled, tells pretty awful jokes and always has a proper handkerchief available if someone needs to wipe away a tear or two. He is awkward and he carries a dollop of guilt around with him on his shoulder like a parrot. One of his redeeming features is that he is a practical man.
Louise (Natasha Little) is his ex-wife. She is calmness personified, remains in the family home and is a keen gardener. But recent redundancy means she is looking to downsize.
The ‘family’ is completed by Adam (Charles Reston) and Izzy (Rosie Day) who are both in their 20s but complete opposites.
Adam, an academic and poet, is like a fuse ready to blow. He marches rather than walks and has steam coming out of his ears. The relationship with his girlfriend is also on the verge of imploding which is not surprising given his bolshiness.
In contrast, Izzy is a party animal who is sexy, loves life (and sex) and is not particularly good at keeping relationships or remaining solvent. Pity her boyfriend Boyd, a friend of Adam.
The play is loosely framed around a lunch at the family home. But rather than highlight the tensions between the four of them in conventional style, Jacob tries an unconventional approach. Key moments are repeated – two or three times – but with subtle changes in the outcomes. Each restarting of the action is marked by one of the characters resetting their chair.
So we first see Adam storm out of the home as soon as he sees that Dad is there (Mum never told him he would be present). Tom resets his chair and Adam arrives ‘again’, this time surprised that Dad is there but happy to joke about the fact that Izzy is late as ever. Another reset and this time Adam’s arrival is shortly followed by that of Izzy’s who is complaining over the fact that she lost her phone at a party.
Three slightly different versions of an event (Adam walking into the family home), a format repeated throughout the play. What does it all signify? The fact that often we have no idea how we will respond to a certain situation until we are there in the moment? Different versions according to our individual memories?
The play goes back in time to when Izzy was left as a child on a train platform in Barcelona (cleverly acted). It also goes forward as Tom is hit by bad news concerning Sheena. We also learn of Izzy’s episode of binge drinking and Tom’s on-off relationship with Sheena and his flirtation with coming back to Louise – episodes that perpetuated family discord.
It is all a little messy but the play is held together by fine performances from Day and Little. Day is a pocket dynamo of an actress while Little gives Louise a serenity that is beautiful to observe.
In terms of highlighting the damage caused by family breakups, Again hits the mark. The trauma caused by marital breakdown is not just immediate. Like cancer, it eats away at those affected, especially the children, and can explode to the surface at any moment. Indeed, it can scar for life.
The play is also well directed by Hannah Price with the actors superbly utilising the few props available (the reset chairs and a table that Tom – a builder by profession – is prone to polishing at every opportunity). Hats off to Anthony Lamble for fitting the play into the confined space of Trafalgar Studios 2.
Again. Fine. But Again, Again and Again? I am not wholly convinced. Innovative? Yes. Enjoyable? In parts, in parts, in parts.