Theatre Review: Becky Shaw

Posted on: 10 February 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

Power and manipulation are the twin themes of Gina Gionfriddo’s astute, acerbic and richly funny contemporary comedy Becky Shaw, directed by Peter DuBois.

The show was originally a big hit off Broadway and has now come to the Almeida Theatre in Islington N1 – and we’re glad to have it!

The action, mostly set around Rhode Island, centres on an ill-fated blind date arranged by the newlyweds Andrew and Susanna. He felt sorry for the luckless 35-year old Becky who works as a temp in his office, and she has sympathy for the orphaned Max, a financial whiz-kid adopted by her own family. But the dinner date between Becky and Max has disastrous consequences for all concerned.

Becky Shaw

Indeed from the moment that Becky arrives overdressed for the date with straight-talking Max, it’s clear the evening won’t go to plan. In the immediate fallout, Becky becomes an object of devotion for her boss Andrew, who appears to have a fetish for vulnerable women. In turn Andrews’s wife Susanna turns to her stepbrother Max for comfort, and their mutual desire begins to resurface.

What is so refreshing about this play is that Gionfriddo’s focus and moral perspective frequently shifts, through her densely textured writing. The wit is razor-sharp with many cherishable one liners, yet you feel there is real pain behind the laughter. Jonathan Fensom’s revolve-based design creates an atmosphere of both intimacy and authenticity and ensures the pace never flags.

But it is the excellent performances by David Wilson-Barnes (the only member of the cast from the original American production) as the assured, emotionally-detached Max, Daisy Haggard as the neurotic but appealing Becky, Anna Madeley as the gruffly urging Susanna, Vincent Montuel as her conventional writer husband Andrew and Haydyn Gwynne as her MS-afflicted, toy-boy-trailing mother Susan (a role that Joan Crawford or Bette Davis would have relished) that really bring this smart, sophisticated comedy so vividly to life.

In short this small gem of a play which explores issues of class and human psychology with real humour and insight is truly worthy of a West End transfer.

Plays until March 5

Box office: 0207 359 4404

By Laurence Green

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