Duncan Mason and Harriet Grenville. Photo by Katie Lang.
I started with the intention of writing a review of Kevin Lee’s Different Class, which was on at the Baron’s Court Theatre from the 19th-23rd to July.
Admittedly, a busy schedule got the best of me with most of my free time going towards finishing my MA dissertation. Today, in finishing the review I had written (some of which I’ll incorporate here), I did a Google search to remind myself of the dates of the production. Instead of the dates coming up, the reviews did. Spoiler alert: I enjoyed it more than some of the other reviewers seemed to, with the main criticism resting on a somewhat slow development of plot and a stand-up comedy routine that happens in the second half of the piece. The latter is in itself a device, intentionally employed to make the viewer feel the uncomfortable, underlying tensions between the characters (which they acknowledged). The former, a question of taste.
The set up is simple: Andy and Maria are friends. After a party, Andy comes by Maria’s to pick up sunglasses he’s left and the play spirals from there. The play ran at just over an hour and takes place entirely in one room, at one time. On that premise alone it is easy to see where Different Class could go wrong. The key to this play is in the casting. Harriet Grenville was a vivacious Maria, enjoying every moment she spent teasing Duncan Mason’s cynical Andy in this private time they’ve found together. Grenville and Mason kept the energy so high and were so in tune with one another that the writing didn’t stagnate.
I’ll endeavor not to give away the ending in discussing the issues with the plot that, presumably, the other reviews are referring to.
Perhaps it’s because I saw Different Class initially a year ago at the Etcetera Theatre that I am so fond of this piece. The most interesting thing about this play is watching how it developed, though the only significant changes were the actors and the ending.
Lee is a wonderful writer and I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation of Different Class, more so even than the last. His success as a writer is in his ability to capture the nuance of thought and everyday life. These are not people in extraordinary circumstances: these people, these characters that we learn about, allow themselves the time to say the things they don’t care about (all the time) and struggle to say the things that matter (if they say them at all). What he captures, aside from the obvious North/South divide and the kind of underlying resentment that is so apparent within the social structure in London, is this feeling of being dissatisfied and not doing anything about it, a fear of pursuing dreams because life is comfortable. It doesn’t matter if this dream is to live in a flat on your own, having a lasting relationship or to run for President. What matters is the fact that, though the audience is let in on the secrets of the characters inner thoughts, they don’t let one another in. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts: if you don’t put yourself out there you may never be hurt, but you’ll also never get what it is you’re yearning for. His writing may not be to everyones taste and that’s to be expected; frankly, the reason theatre thrives in London is because of the incredibly diverse landscape of the theatre scene. Having said that, and having seen so much theatre lately, it feels like we’re growing used to seeing plays that are provocative, sometimes solely for the sake of being provocative. For the purpose of this piece though, it was lovely to see people engaging simply as people and feeling, as an audience member, that we’re being let in on this glimpse of someone else’s reality.