The cutting edge is the first play in the Arcola Theatre’s 20th anniversary season. It’s addressing ideas of capitalism vs creativity and challenges the idea of choosing whether to live happily or wealthily. But it is very reminiscent of the past and a retelling of “the way things were”, rather then feeling fresh.
Chris (David Sturzaker) and Ann (Jasmine Hyde) are preparing for dinner guests in their 100% self sufficient home in the countryside. You quickly learn that seven years ago Chris had a big city job as a journalist and lived a life of luxury. But he found it to be mundane, unfulfilling and couldn’t bear the life he was leading. The preparations quickly get interrupted by the eccentric visitor, Elvira (Maggie Steed) and her partner Zak (Michael Feast). Their presence evokes tension and later a lot of alcohol induced conversations. All discussing the importance of wealth, art and capitalism between characters at either ends of the spectrum. It’s a fascinating topic but the way it’s told in this new play by Jack Shepherd feels old and out-dated. Instead of looking to the future with optimism, it’s a constant stream of “memories gone by” in a bizarre drunken afternoon. Some early on scenes are too expositional in an effort to tell us why Ann and Chris are in this situation and there is a lack of authentic dialogue in these moments.
Shepard has managed to throw the most unlikely ensemble of characters together. Elvira is larger than life and the definition of indiscreet. Steed plays the drunken, used to be artist in a gutsy way. Her character is haphazard yet charming and her rudeness for entering a strangers house uninvited is quickly forgiven. The strong middle class person is represented by Peter, played by James Clyde who witters on nonsensically throughout. The truly intriguing character of Zak raises the real tension as he pushes the boundaries of conversation and argument. His biker persona is strong and quirkily hipster, Feast plays this excellently.
But the play centres around the lives of Anna and Chris and these other people are merely a passing presence. Hyde and Sturzaker create a lovely dynamic on stage and grapple brilliantly with loving each other but struggling to earn enough to live. Sturzaker has an explosive anger and his struggle seems to seep out of his very pores. Hyde is the rock of the whole scenario and she acts Ann charmingly, with a loving warmth that is infectious.
Unfortunately, this play lacks an ability to say something new or optimistic and is slow paced. But it truly has a fascinating topic that feels relevant to today’s climate and is acted beautifully.