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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Leisure Society

I’m his special friend. — Paula
The Leisure Society
Melanie Gray as Mary, Agyness Deyn as Paula, John Schwab as Mark and Ed Stoppard as Peter (Photo: Lydia Goldblatt)
The Leisure Society has a French Canadian pedigree and is a comedy of social manners for the 30 somethings who are looking to bring more fulfilment and excitement to their lives. In the opening scene, Peter (Ed Stoppard) and Mary (Melanie Gray) are being interviewed about their request to adopt a child. They already have a year old baby, not adopted but their natural child. It appears that they are requesting to adopt a child of Chinese ethnic origin so that they might have someone to play their piano. Don’t ask why they bought a piano when they have no one playing it! This may be symptomatic of a futile consumerism. Peter and Mary try hard to answer the questions posed by the voice from the adoption agency.

When we return home with Peter and Mary we realise that theirs is not the perfectly happy home they have portrayed. From a baby listening device comes the plaintive and persistent crying of their baby and it emerges that while they do want another child, they want to adopt an older child because they can’t face another year of the ordeal for parents of a baby’s first year. They are both trying to give up alcohol and cigarettes with the added strain that this causes. Also on their mind is their friend Mark whom they have invited round so that they can tell him that they do not want to be friendly any more. When recently divorced Mark (John Schwab) arrives, he is accompanied by the very gorgeous “special friend”, who he sleeps with on occasions, Paula played by model Agyness Deyn in her first stage acting role.

Deyn is electrifying onstage, a natural actor with her cropped blonde hair and bright blue eyes looking quizzically at Peter and Mary as she scrutinizes their marriage. While things go very pear shaped for Peter, as he hesitates at the threesome proposal put by his wife Mary and his place in the threesome is taken by Mark, leaving Peter to pace anxiously downstairs. Peter is left wondering what is happening upstairs after he turns down Mark’s offer that he should at least watch even if he doesn’t join in.

There is plenty to laugh at during these spoilt sexual shenanigans until you read the programme and realise that the playwright is deliberately trying to provoke the audience, hoping that what disturbs some, others will find funny. Peter and Mary are successful and have everything economically that they could wish for except a baby that will sleep. The answer of course would be to employ a full time nanny but instead Peter and Mary look at increasingly daring sexual adventures.

In the tiny Trafalgar Studios 2 the audience is right on top of the actors who might have benefitted from more depth or space rather than playing inches from the audience’s faces but then the piano had to be fitted in!

Ed Stoppard seemed ill at ease, but that is very much the outcome for his character, and Melanie Gray as his wife Mary is as tightly strung as a ship’s rigging. John Schwab’s divorcé Mark is into sexual experimentation after his exit from his marriage but is laid back and relaxed at the prospect of anything goes. This is a promising start for Agyness Deyn who I long to see cast in a more sensible play. Simon Scullion’s set features white sofas made from compressed paper which on second night were starting to show signs of crushing. The parallel with Archambault’s play occurred to me. I came away asking if The Leisure Society were biting satire or merely shallow. The latter I fear is my response!

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The Leisure Society
Written by François Archambault
Translated by Bobby Theodore
Directed by Harry Burton

Starring: Ed Stoppard, Melanie Gray, John Schwab, Agyness Deyn
Production Designer: Simon Scullion
Costume Designer: Helen Woolfenden
Lighting: Jeremy Coney
Sound: Sara Hillier
Running time: One hour 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7627
Booking to 24th March 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd February 2012 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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