Last Saturday I went to see Tim Price’s For Once at the Hampstead Theatre. Tim’s a young playwright and screenwriter (TV credits including EastEnders and his award-winning drama for S4C, Y Pris). He’s been making waves as a talent in Wales for some time – and has also been making his own unique contribution to its theatre scene with the highly successful Dirty Protest company, which brings together new and established playwrights showcasing spanking hot-off-the-keyboard work in a… Mongolian yurt. Yes, a Mongolian yurt. For Once marks the first in a trio of major premieres of his work, including The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning – which has recently been commissioned by National Theatre Wales.
For Once is a three-hander study in provincial despair; a play meditating on the difficulties of access to communication, honesty and love from those we need the very most. The play’s starting point is the aftermath of a car crash, as Sid, the lone surviving teenager among his best friends, struggles with guilt – while his parents April and Gordon scramble to recapture a normalcy for him and for themselves that none of them, we discover, ever really possessed in the first place. As well as highlighting the stark reality of interplay, that extreme events tend to expose rather than derange existing human relationships, the play’s complementary theme is the difficulty of being young in the apparently idealistic setting of villages or small towns. Denied excitement in controlled environments, there is nothing to do but drive fast and drive dangerously, to nowhere. Mr Cameron, are you listening?
If this sounds bleak – well, at times, it is. The static set of a kitchen-diner area holds the characters suspended in their own frustratingly separate and yet united existences, and, in what is surely a fond nod to Osborne, an ironing board on which April rhythmically steams away at her husband’s shirts in anger and sorrow almost becomes a fourth character. But the play is distinguished by a rich humour, too. For even in tragedy – and sometimes especially in it – there can still be levity. Laughs about a labrador dog called ‘Neil’, middle-aged women who wear wooden jewellery and ludicrous middle-class pomposity all add to an impressive mix.
Comes highly recommended. For Once runs to 30th July. Visit the Hampstead Theatre website for more details.