Merit

Theatre, Contemporary theatre
2 out of 5 stars
 (© Robert Workman)
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© Robert WorkmanEllie Turner and Karen Ascoe in 'Merit' at Finborough Theatre. 
 (© Robert Workman)
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© Robert WorkmanEllie Turner and Karen Ascoe in 'Merit' at Finborough Theatre. 
 (© Robert Workman)
3/4
© Robert WorkmanEllie Turner and Karen Ascoe in 'Merit' at Finborough Theatre. 
 (© Robert Workman)
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© Robert WorkmanEllie Turner in 'Merit' at Finborough Theatre. 

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

Repetitive arguments and circular sniping abound in Alexandra Wood's look at the recession in Spain.

Unemployment is rife, but somehow Sofia – without much in the way of qualifications or experience – bags a well-paid position as a mega-bucks banker’s PA. So unlikely does this seem, even her mother Patricia questions his motivations – as well as her daughter’s credentials. It’s a punchy opening, but Alexandra Wood’s play soon tumbles like shares on the stockmarket. That initial ambiguity isn’t further explored; instead, we get a series of improbable squabbles between the mum and daughter.

 One minute, Patricia wants Sofia to bag her a job with the bank too; the next, she’s outside it, at some kind of anti-capitalist protest – and the next, she’s disapproving of Sofia’s commitment to giving money to charity, and whining about wanting a holiday. Yes, humans are contradictory, but these just seem ill-thought through. Wood’s characters aren’t consistent within a scene, never mind across the arc of a play, and a whopping twist stretches credulity even further. 

The pair’s repetitive, circular, illogical arguments may be representative of the worst kind of pass-ag bickering we revert to with relatives, but a whole show of nothing else leaves you feeling itchy and irritable. It certainly doesn’t add to debates about austerity and inequality in any meaningful way.

Tom Littler, who staged such a gorgeously sensitive ‘Martine’ in the same space, doesn’t bring out much here. He approaches ‘Merit’ with unfussy naturalism, but given the swerves Wood’s story takes, perhaps absurd psycho-drama or pitch-black satire might have worked better. I would have remained oblivious to the supposed setting – Spain 2013 – had I not had the script. Maybe ‘in the grip of austerity’ is just a depressingly universal story now. 

Still, the performances are good. Karen Ascoe as the mum has a convincing fluttering quality: needy but also utterly overbearing and ignorant about the world her daughter inhabits. Ellie Turner’s hard-nosed but compelling Sofia is a study in sarcasm: curt and condescendingly self-important. What you don’t get is much sense of love and affection, either to leaven their tetchy relationship or to anchor the emotional manipulations: it’s just snipe after snipe, even in the face of tragedy.

BY: HOLLY WILLIAMS

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