This is a short play that focusses on two train journeys and on the lives of five passengers. The first trip is from London to Penzance and it begins with an awkward conversation between James, a young man on his way to visit family in Cornwall, and Amy, on her way to meet her lover for the weekend. In a nearby carriage Philip, a middle aged lawyer, is travelling with his lover, Davina, to spend the weekend at a hotel near Penzance. His wife suddenly appears. The second journey is the return trip to London after an eventful weekend.
The set for the play in the small Tristan Bates Theatre is very simple – a group of four train seats – and the journey is punctuated by a series of irritating messages from the steward running the buffet car, the sort of experience that will be familiar to anyone who knows First Great Western. The five actors are entirely at home with the conversational style of the characters – all from the “living in London, weekend in the country” subculture. James, played by the writer Tom Ward-Thomas, does a nice line in shy aggression as he quizzes Laura about her ‘geriatric’ boyfriend. Amy Newton as Laura strikes just the right note of “mind your own business” and self-doubt to give the growing attraction between her and James credibility. The excruciating embarrassment as Philip, his lover, and his wife play out the revelation and its consequences for the few final miles into Penzance is well conveyed by all three actors. It’s an amusing 75 minutes that never drags.
But I was left feeling it could have been a much better TV play – on screen the two conversations could have been intercut and the parallels could have been exploited. The beginning of the conversation between James and Laura – over a crossword clue – was absurd and left me thinking Laura was too dim to attract James. And some of the plot devices were unconvincing – what was Philip doing taking his secret lover to a hotel so near his family home in Cornwall? And the fact that, as we learn late on, the five characters are all closely linked is the sort of far-fetched plot device Dickens might have used.
It’s an enjoyable evening at this friendly performance venue but it all turns out to be less than the sum of its rather good parts.