Are the working classes just cannon fodder for an imperious warmonger? Can art and poetry really save us, improve us and make us better people? Will England ever get through the knockout stage? Sold as a north-south divide comedy, with shades of Ayckbourn, Invincible by Torben Betts played for the first time, to a northern audience in Hull.
Devised by the Original Theatre Company and The Theatre Royal Bury St. Edmunds, the full length play directed by Christopher Harper, echoes Betts’ own experience of journeying north, charmingly depicted right at the start, by a toy train creeping across the front of the stage.
With the recession biting, Emily and Oliver, relocate from London, so the children can be brought up among ‘real’ people. Their neighbours Alan and Dawn, the aforementioned ‘real’ people are invited into their home.
He Oliver, self centred, proves to be far more corrupted, than his squeaky clean image suggests. She Emily, more complex, carrying a heavy burden of guilt and remorse, tying herself in knots with her lefty liberal values. She Dawn, a working class p/t receptionist, bringing up three kids, knows her own mind but doesn’t speak out. He Alan, a postie, a football fan, a loud mouthed fat and bald, lager-swilling lout who loves nothing better than watching England on the box.
A minefield of stereotypes to admire, as each character is revealed, in the case of Dawn the lights go up and there she is in the middle of the room, bold as brass, dressed in a tight orange dress and coral heels, much to Oliver’s delight and a huge contrast to Emily in her handmade – so obviously superior – sensible woollen shift.
Invincible says more about the haves and the have-nots, than differences in geography, it is far more about class divides, with human failings and grief being the great levellers. It is written in the farce tradition, so plenty of laughs and misunderstandings arising from both the situation and the deft script, with interruptions, under-cutting and talking at cross-purposes.
The ‘perfect couple’ playing to type, the commoners living up to expectation, neither saying what is really on their minds, each are wrapped up in a construct of social mores and convention.
There’s a particularly memorable moment where Emily, an art scholar, is invited to bring to bear her critical eye, to look upon Alan’s paintings of his beloved cat Vince. Her own canvas, an abstract in a Pollock style, is hanging proudly on the wall. For someone who offers their own opinion on art, the pressure Emily experiences to sugar the pill, amused me greatly.
Alan provides much of the comedy, blundering in, mistaking a coffee table book on Karl Marx, for the vaudeville trio or my favourite for its sheer absurdity, Emily extolling the virtues of Thomas Tallis over William Bird. Hilarious to see which lines were landing in the audience. A different crowd tonight, out of 200 people maybe more, I think I saw only one familiar face, that, is exceedingly rare in Hull.
I mentioned the toy train, as for the rest of the stage design there was an inventive metaphor for the imprisoning effect of urban sprawl, and doors built into the lounge interior set, many doors for the players to emerge from, having not heard the vital clue in the layers of dramatic irony.
Scenes began with a stirring piece of music, to establish mood, pomp and circumstance, royal fervour giving way to the worship of a different idol. I initially thought these clips were indicative of time passing but no, my companion suggested they symbolised increased sense of patriotism, Britain on the up, the golden dream of London 2012, the irresistible pull of capitalism from the capital: the unmistakable smell of money.
Invincible is being translated to play to international audiences, including Europe and S. America, so becoming a vehicle with which to explore these universal notions of societal, political and class difference.
Another commentator might have mentioned 2017, opportunity through cultural endeavour, economic regeneration through art, cultural hierarchy, gentrification… but as we clearly witnessed in Invincible, even with all that privilege and opportunity you may still turn out a bad apple.
Oliver: Alastair Whatley,
Emily: Emily Bowker,
Alan: Graeme Brookes
Dawn : Kerry Bennett
Invincible runs 12 – 14 April Hull Truck