One Day When We Were Young

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© Elyse Marks

An intimate epic that slots into new writing company Paines Plough's temporary Shoreditch theatre like a charm in a locket, Nick Payne's excellent fourth play follows the fortunes of Leonard and Violet over six decades, from naïve wartime sweethearts in 1942, through to virtual strangers in 1963 and on to a semi-farcical rapprochement in 2002.

The plotting is predictable but it's a reassuring predictability, like a really cracking piece of teatime telly drama.

In the first scene the teenage couple awkwardly divulge each other of their virginities in a Bath hotel room on the night before Leonard ships off to war. The second, '60s-set sequence is a painful reunion:?what turns out to be the pair's first since that night in Bath. And the final, most recent scene confirms the suspicion that more happened in the hotel that first night than Violet had let on.

What elevates the play beyond the simply pleasant is the vibrancy of Payne's characters. There are few period clichés in Clare Lizzimore's production: Violet is a sensuous, playful, fiercely intelligent and thoroughly modern young woman; awkward Leonard can't match her brains, but he is sweet and their puppy love is believable.

As is their relationship's failure: in the post war social order, it is inevitable that Violet will leave Leonard far behind; by the '60s he cuts a rather pathetic figure. Yet the spark between the two never disappears, and Payne's writing remains sympathetic, humane and funny.

Young actors Maia Alexander and Andrew Sheridan are both names to watch out for, her all easy charm and intelligent charisma, him a deft comic foil with a gift for unexpected pathos. As for Payne: inevitably his 2012 will be more notable for imminent West End transfer 'Constellations', but 'One Day…' confirms his arrival as a serious talent.

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