Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Crush, Underbelly

Review: Crush, Underbelly

Published on Culture Wars, 19.08.2009

Not so long ago Second Life was just that: a layer of fiction, leisurely escapism. Now, according to Paul Charlton, reality has been supplanted. In Crush, Charlton suggests a schizophrenic society drifting into the virtual, always tempted to dive down the rabbit hole of Web 2.0.

Sam and Anna have been married for seven years. She was slimmer then. He was motivated and, even, charismatic.

Now, aged 29, Sam is conducting an online affair with a 22 year-old newly-qualified teacher to whom he once sold a book. “It’s not real”, he protests when confronted, but, as his marriage breaks down and his wife spends more and more time in the gym, the actuality of its consequences is plain to see.

Charlton’s text exists in the overlaps between two intercutting monologues. Sam (Neil Grainger) sits at his laptop watching Burnley take on Manchester City, intermittently trawling Google for titbits of useless information. Across the stage, Anna (Claire Dargo) is draped over an exercise bikes, pedalling vigorously but going nowhere. By the end, the gap between real and virtual existences has become a chasm, with far more than a mere marriage in the balance. Generally Charlton’s pacing of revelation is superb, although his killer twist (Anna is pregnant, Sam has bet their mortgage on the football) reads a touch too contrived. Certainly, it ups the stakes, but more with a sudden yank than a gradual wringing.

There is, however, much to be admired. Crush is a particularly astute glance at today’s disillusioned society. On the cusp of their thirties, Sam and Anna are indicative of a generation’s fear of genuine responsibility, its disinclination to difficulties and its inability to appreciate anything with the slightest of flaws. Both have walked from university (with 2:1’s, of course) into mediocre jobs and marriage only to become malcontent with their lot.

Dargo and Grainger put in strong turns, imbuing their confessionals with a sharp humour. They both play totally convinced of their own ethical rights and (excusable) wrongs. By having the husband and wife talk directly to the audience, director Ria Parry manages to create a genuine concern for both characters. You feel protective of the malleable Anna and desperate to slap Sam out of his virtual stupidity. By the final moments, when the couple come face to face for the first time, the fallout born of idiocy and addiction seems so impending that you feel a shout of frustration rising in your throat.

Smart, savvy and, above all, transfixingly human, Crush is a dipstick for a generation with its head in the sand, one that has totally lost connection thanks to its wireless connection. Let’s hope it proves a warning light.

Photograph: Iron Shoes

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