When was the last time you didn’t feel lonely? A poignant and relevant question that is repeatedly asked throughout the short and sharp sixty minute running time of Underground. It is a question that especially applies to Underground’s two central characters, Claire and James, who embody the ‘Everymen’ of Generation Y: dead end jobs they don’t like, lost dreams of journalism and guitar playing, glued to their ironically isolating dating apps. This slightly overdone theme is rather underdeveloped in Isla Van Tricht’s script, but is brought to life by a talented cast and some innovative staging.
This comedic drama is a site-responsive piece for the Vault Festival’s damp and dingy Cavern space. The difficulties of staging such an intimate play in such a long and thin hall like the Cavern are combatted with Kate Tierman’s inventive staging and a magnificent lighting design that manages to convey the farthest corners of the space with scrolling spotlights while also creating the familiar atmospheric effect of a heater in a pub garden.
The play has some wonderful moments. James croons for Claire ‘not to look at him like that’ as they are about to kiss, Steve the pub landlord (played with realistic brilliance by Adrian Wheeler) suddenly becomes a stranger as he asks to be woken at Clapham North station. But writer Isla Van Tricht seems too eager to make her play as current as possible and, as a result, phrases such as ‘Netflix and chill’ and ‘swipe right’ are bandied around repetitively and woodenly.
The talented cast was able to make up for this slightly strained script by fleshing out their stereotyped characters and transforming them into real people, with their own delicate ticks and intricacies. Michael Jinks and Bebe Sanders have an engaging, watchable chemistry. Their sideways looks and quick, banterous delivery make them a watchable duo. Jinks is able to give the script the effortlessness it somewhat lacks and put the audience at ease from his opening monologue in which he reminisces about John Hughes’ movies.
Underground raises some interesting questions about the anonymity of city life, but falls short of developing them to maturation. Saying that, when it works, it isn’t far off from a sort of ‘Magical Realism for the modern age’.