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  • Flora Gosling

Review: This is Where We Get Off (Websters Theatre)

A sitcom cast imprisoned in a play

This is Where We Get Off, by Ingram Noble and Heather Spiden, has very little to do with buses. Arguably the only thing this debut play has in common with a bus journey is that declaring “this is where we get off” with a bow feels like a weird way to end things. Forced though the title and final line may be, that doesn't mean to say that the journey is not worthwhile. We are introduced to the Moffat family, featuring pregnant and incurably sassy Yvonne (Laura Begley), her alcoholic and secretive husband Phil (Jordan Howat), their teenage son Lip (Ben Kay), their sex-toy-selling, milk-stealing neighbour Ronnie (Noble), and Yvonne’s much-resented mother Sylvia (Lynn Mulvenna). Well, that’s the gang all here. What now?

The play is, ostensibly, about these characters going through the toughest times of their lives.

Lip for example is dating two girls and thinking about joining the army in the hope it will give his life direction and meaning. The former dilemma does little to evolve his character beyond giving his parents something to tease him about, but the latter gives Kay the chance to demonstrate his gentle touch. Amongst other characters he is a typically reserved teenager, albeit with some very good comic timing, but given the spotlight he uncovers impressive depth. Another star of the performance is Begley. You can’t help but pay attention to her just to watch her expression – I was particularly fond of her scrunched face of indignity that chimed with me as a woman. She seems totally at home in this role, and given stronger material she would almost be worth seeking out on her own. Like Lip, Yvonne has her own challenges – namely her mother. But if you weren’t paying attention, the significance of her return would be totally lost on you. We learn within the first scene that for 18 years she has been lying about living in Portugal, and instead has been living just a short drive away with her sister. Yet when she reunites with the Moffats they act as though she just came home early from holiday. Similarly, when they discover her dementia diagnosis it is far from the earth-shattering realisation it would be for most of us. Noble, as director, seems to struggle with giving emotional moments the gravity they deserve.

When it comes to comedy, however, Noble seems far more at home as a writer, director, and actor. The script and direction are quippy and balanced, and when Noble is on stage himself he is such a likable presence that you too would let him raid your cupboards just for a natter with Ronnie. The play has its fair share of adult humour, but the kind that you wouldn't feel embarrassed laughing at with your mother. It makes one nostalgic for the easy-going comedic aimlessness of something like Miranda. But after a while, you start to remember why such shows have gone out of fashion. The play suffers badly from a lack of momentum. There is a moment in the second act, where all characters are slumped hungover on a breakfast table, where the characters are quiet long enough for you to realise how little there is to resolve. Each character has their circumstances, but few have anything to do about it. The closest thing to a central plot is Yvonne’s relationship with her mother, but the contents of these interactions are so heavy that they threaten to tear holes in the fabric of light comedy surrounding it. Perhaps that juxtaposition is intended as commentary, tragedy sitting side-by-side with comedy, but the writing simply isn’t nuanced enough to handle the implications of sexual abuse and paedophilia that surface in the final scene.

It isn’t always obvious whether a writer has started with the story, a setting, or a character, but with This is Where We Get Off it doesn’t take long to figure out which came first. The Moffats are a fun collection of characters who seem desperate for a sitcom-like format that would allow them to grow and bond and conflict in any number of directions. But that’s not what plays do, and by the end of two hours, you feel both worn out and unfulfilled. Three stars.

This is Where We Get Off has completed its run at Webster's Theatre, but will be performing at The East Kilbride Arts Centre on April 26th


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