Lobster reviewed by David James
Friends famously espoused the romantic faithfulness of the lobster - explaining that it mated with a single partner for life. Sadly for romantics (and Etsy vendors) this is bollocks. Like all crustaceans, a pair of lobsters mate once and then head their separate ways, never to see their partner again over the course of their short, brutal lives.
Lucy Foster's play Lobster understands this, giving us a 90-minute primer in the complexities of commitment, incompatibility and romantic disappointment. Our (occasionally) happy couple are J (Alexandra Reynolds), a perpetually upbeat, family orientated woman who hungers for the monotony of middle-age; and K (Louise Beresford), a cynic with a 'dark personality' working through early-adulthood existential blues.
Lobster walks us through the giddy highs and crushing lows of a relationship that feels custom designed to find out whether opposites really attract. At first, it seems they do, K's self-doubt and panic attacks are easily weathered by J's upbeat stability and the pair run through a mini-relationship montage of dates, parties, dinners and curling up on the sofa eating biscuits and watching TV.
But over the course of about a year K's situation gradually shifts. She experiences personal tragedy, unemployment and a change of careers - slowly becoming a happier person. In an ideal world, K's mood improving should make the relationship stronger. But, in the play's keenest observation, we realise that J emotionally feeds upon K's negativity, getting her Christian self-satisfaction by being the happy, uplifting and self-sacrificing partner.
Criticising someone for being too nice is a tricky proposition. After all, isn't being accommodating, empathetic and kind what we should all strive for? But K's criticisms of J ring true, arguing that J defines her personality in terms of how she's opposed to K. As the play demonstrates, when the pessimistic partner cheers up a bit, the optimistic partner's identity is under threat and it's not long before the relationship falls apart.
As you can probably tell, my sympathies during the play were overwhelmingly with K. Aside from a tendency for teeth-gritting tweeness, J is riddled with desperation that her dreams of bourgeois monotony are gradually slipping through her fingers as each day passes. Eventually, K becomes less a partner and more a convenient vehicle through which J can achieve the conservative life she craves.
That Lucy Foster can communicate all this whilst being funny as hell is a real testament to her playwriting skills. It's also a testament to a damn good production. Beresford and Reynolds are both excellent, each believably evolving their character over the course of the year.
While I didn't have a lot of time for J as a character, I deeply enjoyed watching Alexandra Reynolds slowly reveal the cracks in her perky carapace - culminating in a powerful emotional climax in which she refuses to understand why life is dealing her shit cards. She's perfectly matched off against Louise Beresford (who I also enjoyed in Victim in Edinburgh last summer) - whose expressive facial gymnastics and body language would communicate who K was even if the play were entirely mimed.
My only criticism is that the play is studded with really shit indie music. Most of the time Lobster feels like a perceptive insight into relationship dynamics, but whenever an acoustic guitar and a floppy-fringed male vocalist pipes up it just feels manipulative, as if the play doesn't have enough faith in its audience to feel the correct emotion. Ditch the bedwetting soundtrack and things would be vastly improved.
That aside, there's very little to criticise about Lobster. It's as perceptive a play about modern love as I can recall seeing: witty, easy to relate to and providing an awful lot of intellectual meat to chew over. Check it out!
Lobster is at Theatre503 until 20 January 2018. Tickets here.