Wednesday, August 5, 2015

'Money Womb' at Theatre503, 4th August 2015

In which we spend two hours in the company of a coked up dickhead with daddy issues. Money Womb is a character study, psychogeographical dissection of London, cautionary tale and relationship drama all wrapped up a big sweary bundle.

Our hero is Peter Finch (Jon Cottrell), a smart yet egotistical young man. We meet him as a cocky 18 year old in the Midlands, doing his clumsy best to get into the knickers of the 16 year old Hannah (Asha Read). He soon gets his way, the two embarking on a tempestuous relationship of furtive sex and teenage kicks. Hating his dull home town, Peter sets his sights on London, convincing Hannah to up sticks and join him in escaping to the city where the streets are paved with gold.

He's soon caught up in the whirlwind of London life; a maelstrom of ambition, competition and amphetamines - where you've got to run as fast as you can to stay in the same place. Meanwhile Asha remains in their Stepney flat, whiling away the hours smoking rollies and staring out of the window. And so, almost imperceptibly, love begins to curdle.

Though Peter is undoubtedly and intentionally a massive prick, he is (at least for the most part), an interesting prick. The character is shot through with complexities; at first we see him as arrogant, yet soon realise that this is a psychological smokescreen for a deeply damaged neurotic personality. Like a shark, Peter needs to keep moving at all times, whether it be from small town to the City, through a series of temp jobs, to keep his relationship evolving or simply bustling around the city in the disguise of a city boy. Even his blood needs to rush, his coke habit jackhammering his heartrate up and speeding his thoughts to a frantic rush. Staying still is a death sentence - a comparison to his hated father.

Proceedings are enlivened by evocative writing and a nicely pitched performance from Cottrell. The best bits are the powerful description of the existential blues that you get in the waiting room of a clinic, a late night mugging on the streets of Hackney, scrabbling around in a panic trying to find a missing gram of coke and an appropriately bitter portrait of begging for your dole money in the Job Centre. Moments like these have that unmistakable tinge of verisimilitude clearly borne of personal experience and deep seated resentment.

These bits are good, but sadly the show doesn't quite hold up as a whole. For one, simply, it's too damn long. Billed as 90 minutes, it proves to actually be a butt numbing two hours with no interval, and frustration builds in the latter half as the characters very very slowly spiral the plughole of their relationship. Peter is an interesting character study, but this long in his company eventually grates. 

Not helping matters is that the central relationship never tips over into believability. Though she's the dramatic fulcrum of the play, Hannah is severely underwritten and ultimately drowned out by the dominant Peter. This gives Asha Read nothing to do other than look increasingly miserable. I suppose there's an argument that this is a reflection of Peter's POV, but even so, she feels like a dramatic device more than a person.

Criticisms aside, Nick Smith is clearly a writer to keep an eye on. In the best bits his writing, married to Cottrell's fine performance, gives you a genuine glimpse through another human being's eyes. Promising work.


Money Womb is at Theatre503 until 8 August. Tickets here. 

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