The Argument by William Boyd, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, 19 March 2016

We love the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs. We love the upstairs too, of course, but we really have seen some cracking stuff downstairs.

This piece doesn’t really make the cut as “cracking stuff”. I enjoyed it more than Janie did; she found swathes of it irritating.

There’s not a great deal of plot. Young couple, compulsive arguers about nothing, fall out proper when the shrewish intellectual snob of a wife extracts a confession from the strangely timid yet BSD husband that he has been having an affair with some trollop through work.

Then wheel in the best friend of each spouse plus both of her parents and watch every plausible pairing (and some implausible ones) argue. Some scenes were genuinely laugh-out-loud funny; others were a little “smug sitcom” for our taste. What little plot there is progresses quite slowly and predictably.

It was good to see Michael Simkins (aka Fatty Batter – one of the funniest cricket books I have ever read) on the stage. Last time I saw him in person was at a county cricket match at Lord’s 10 years or so ago; he was with Michael Billington and we three chatted very pleasantly for a brief while.

Plenty of good acting on show, as is pretty much always the case down there at Hampstead. Indeed, in some ways it was the high quality of the acting that irritated Janie. The characters were all unlikable and the actors did a terrific job of projecting that unlike-ability. It is difficult for a play to work if you really don’t care much for any of the characters.

Still, we enjoyed our evening and in some ways the slight disappointment was based on the very high expectations we have now when visiting the Hampstead Theatre – what a huge leap forward from a few years ago when the whole place was in the creative doldrums. Edward Hall has done and is doing a cracking job there. We look forward to seeing the new Neil LaBute upstairs there in a few weeks’ time. I think we saw Mr LaBute himself crossing the Finchley Road while we were on the way to the theatre; quite possible as that upstairs show is still in preview. There’s another fellow we haven’t seen in person for a decade or so.

 

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