I enjoyed last year's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
so was hoping for good things from Nick Payne's second play, Wanderlust
. It's certainly got many funny moments, but is one of those that left me with a nagging feeling that there was just something missing.
It's a play about sex, and one that stays very firmly on-theme throughout. Specifically it's meant to be about sex and intimacy, and whether the two are as linked as they're assumed to be; accordingly, the central relationships are ones where the two are significantly out of balance. Doctor Joy (Pippa Haywood) and her husband, teacher Alan (Stuart McQuarrie) still love each other but their sex life is non-existent. She seeks solace in a platonic relationship with an old flame (Charles Edwards) while he ends up having a purely physical affair with a fellow teacher (Siân Brooke.) Meanwhile their teenage son Tim (James Musgrave) wants to have some sexual experience before trying to chat up an older girl, and turns to best friend Michelle (Isabella Laughland.) Their "practice" sessions go further and further, he remaining seemingly unaware of the fact that she's actually in love with him.
There's undoubtedly lots of laughs throughout, mostly from the comedy of embarrassment (Joy dressing up as a naughty schoolgirl to arouse her husband is a hilarious and particularly cringeworthy scene, while Musgrave and Laughland are adorable as the fumbling teenagers) which may be why the term "sitcom" kept coming into my head. Certainly I suspect Payne would be very well-suited to that genre, I'd be interested to see any sitcom he wrote. But somehow despite the strict adherence to the sexual theme, the whole thing never quite coalesced into something meaningful. There was also an annoyance early on, as a lot of the comic dialogue depended on repetition, i.e:
"I was looking for a pencil sharpener."
"A pencil sharpener?"
"I was looking for a pencil sharpener and I went into 7LW."
"You were looking for a pencil sharpener and you went into -"
"I went into 7LW and."
(That's actual dialogue from the playtext programme.) Quite a lot of that in the first few scenes, by 20 minutes in I was really starting to get irritated by it; fortunately that's about the point where the device is pretty much dropped. Again, this kind of dialogue might be a factor in why I kept thinking of sitcoms.
Ultimately I can't say this is a bad evening at the theatre, it's perfectly entertaining, with strong performances and some memorable scenes. But it does feel like a journey that never really goes anywhere. Wanderlust
by Nick Payne is booking until the 9th of October at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.