Howard Coase shines as writer of Polly, part of the OUDS New Writing Festival at the Burton Taylor Studio. He has delivered a witty script, but the production occasionally misses a beat.
The play, under the direction of Daniel de Lisle, revolves around the dysfunctional relationship of Harry and Natalie, who have the parish priest round to help patch things up. Their daughter Polly is an unseen presence in the play. In a BT season that has already seen productions like Pinter’s Betrayal, the topic of breakdown in marriage risks becoming clichéd and unoriginal, but the vicar, played by Christopher Pike, adds a distinctive element to the play. He is marvellously apologetic, awkwardly sipping orange juice while caught in the middle of the sparring couple, and provides a hilarious surprise towards the end of the play. Nicholas Fanthorpe is also well cast as the friend Malcolm: gangly, nervously licking his lips and looking appropriately out of place.
For a play that revolves around awkward pauses interspersed with cutting remarks, the relationship between Harry and Natalie was not initially spot-on. Missy Malek impressed as a frustrated yet rather formidable, hard-drinking wife but she didn’t consistently meet her match in Joshua Dolphin, playing Harry. Harry oscillates between pained uncertainty and a more self-assured contempt for his wife, but at times in the performance Dolphin’s tone lacked dynamism and his delivery self-confidence. More could have been made, at first, of the couple’s marital tension as it broke out from under the surface of polite conversation in front of the vicar and built up into full-blown conflict. As a result, their relationship seemed a little flat. They talked over each other quite a lot, which sometimes contributed exceedingly well to the naturalistic mode of the play but at other times seemed more like error. Although by the third act their chemistry became more compelling, with a little tightening their interaction could have been sharper and could have built its momentum more effectively.
The play deals in lapses: lapses in time, lapses in fidelity, lapses in religious faith, lapses in the ability to laugh in response to life. The production itself also has some lapses, but eventually does adequate, if not full, justice to what is some excellent new writing.