Merit written by Alexandra Wood, focuses on a strong female duo playing Mother and Daughter who move through periods of time whilst discussing money, family and their relationship with each other. The pieces starts with a loud interlude of house/electro music (which continues throughout to help with scene changes). This creates a strong energy and start; I was full of expectation. Patricia (Karen Ascoe) argues with her daughter, Sofia (Ellie Turner) about her new job, Patricia insinuates that in order such a good job she must have slept with her boss, Antonio. What might be a small underscore in another piece, becomes the crux and starting point of an unfortunately uneventful drama.
The themes of money, family and austerity strike true as we learn that both parents have no job and become dependant on Sofia to support them. There are discussions about unnecessary holidays and even Sofia’s friend Clara starts to bear a grudge towards Sofia as she too is unemployed. Sofia’s boss Antonio is an illustrious and mysterious figure in the proceedings, representing someone with big money, but a big heart. We see the two attend a nondescript jobs protest, we follow the events proceeding the protest as Antonio gets threats because of the position he holds against austerity. Sofia is distressed when Antonio unexpectedly dies, however I’m not so sure how the audience were supposed to feel about it, and even less sure when Patricia reveals she was part of the group who planned his murder.
The material lacked substance, drive and drama, as well as the high stakes we require as an audience to be engaged. Each scene was quite similar, and instead of building to a climax, I found it boring and repetitive. My mind drifted frequently and whilst there is a lot of potential in the themes such as money and the value of family to develop a clinching drama, they are overly discussed. The relationship between mother and daughter is subtle with layers of bitterness lined in every sentence, but with no real character motives or subtext driving the scenes, the audience were left trying to care about Antonio and what he meant to them both. Because the drama is out of their sphere of being, we don’t know how to feel about his death. This leads to us becoming disinterested, which is not for lack of trying on both actresses parts, who both create fabulous characters and wonderful performances.
I’m not sure what the piece was trying to tell us, and I think for a two-hander to have a strong energy and drive us through the action, there needs to be more for the actors to play with. Nevertheless, despite needing a little more substance, the piece is well constructed and well written, powered through by two startling actresses who did an extremely good job of telling us the story.
Merit is playing The Finborough Theatre until 26 March. For more information and tickets, see www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk