Two brothers, the typically confident Oxbridge rah James (Hugh Coles) and the sweetly hapless, younger Billy (Tom Black), hope to use their father’s flat whilst he is away on a mysterious business trip to woo their respective ladies, only to find that they both had the same idea. James arrives first, on his first date with Rebecca (Phoebe Sparrow), a composed and conventional beauty studying at UCL, whose interest in James is clearly second to her interest in the work experience he might be able to swing for her at his father’s law firm. Both act somewhat suspiciously and something also appears to be afoot in the flat – it is full of boxes yet the boys’ father hadn’t mentioned moving.
Panic sets in when they hear a key in the door, and screaming and chaos ensues until James realises it is Billy and his girlfriend Mags – a hilariously chalk and cheese couple. All the actors deserve credit for wholly believable performances, but Nena Shenkman as Mags makes the biggest splash and gets the biggest laughs. Her wildly dramatic entrance completely sets the others off balance and changes the whole dynamic of the space. Her character is clearly bolder and brasher than the others, however, she is written so over-the-top that it does veer into caricature and sometimes feels uncomfortably like the audience are being invited to laugh at her lack of poise, smarts and middle-classiness, alongside the other characters. This said, the characters are all stereotypes to a certain extent, and for the most part, Cover plays with these smartly and then slowly dissolves them as their multitudinous secrets and lies are revealed. Some plot-twists are a little cliché – Mags and Billy’s open relationship, within which both profess to be perfectly happy, is revealed to be a sham as Mags has made up all of her affairs and Billy couldn’t go through with them to begin with.
The script excellently unpicks our collective fickleness, showing how the relationships between all the characters develop and reverse; one amusing example of this is how we clearly assume when the girls first meet (Rebecca can barely conceal her disdain of Mags) that these two personalities are going to clash violently, and yet ten minutes later, after a few glasses of wine, they are laughing hysterically and heartily together. Harry Williams’ directs well and deserves specific praise for the play’s blocking – he makes sure that all three sides of the audience feel close to the action. A strange decision, however, is the inclusion of some physical theatre; these are well-performed little pieces in a old-fashioned slapstick style, but so sparse (just three or four minute-long moments) that they feel stuffed in. Perhaps it’s an attempt to make the piece more unusual, but it could stand up proud as a piece of naturalism perfectly well without them. The ending is rather abrupt and, with no more mystery yet also no indication as to what might happen next, it feels quite flat. Cover is not going to change any lives, but it is a smart and amusing piece of modern theatre.
*** – 3/5 stars
Cover is playing at C nova as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.