Review: My One True Friend, Tristan Bates Theatre

My One True Friend is the second of two plays by Alexander Matthews to be performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre this year. Matthews’ previous play, Do You Really Love This Planet? premiered in February and was well received, leading to high expectations of My One True Friend.

Directed by Antony Law, My One True Friend transports us to Rhodesia in 1976 where Lady L (Suzanna Hamilton) is preparing for her 60th birthday party. She is accompanied in these preparations by her children Gordon (Theo Bamber) and Oonagh (Lucy Lowe) who secretly wish this birthday was her last. She is also assisted by her ageing servant, Kapenie (Mensah Bediako). Kapenie is poorly treated by Lady L but stays by her anyway, much to the dismay of Kapenie’s grandson George (Joseph Rowe) who wants his grandfather to move to America with him. 

The central theme of the play; the idea of a friendship between employer and employee, two people who hate yet need each other each is an interesting and promising premise for a play. However there are several issues which means that the production is not as high a standard as it could be. 

Most of the play’s faults seem to stem from the language of the play. Poetic, heightened language can be very effective when used well but in this production it feels as though the text is severely blocking the actors. With the exception of Bediako, the actors rush through their lines, as if they are trying to finish quickly, without giving time for dialogue to settle and scenes to breathe. Whether this is due to opening night nerves or a time constraint (the running time is just 70 minutes) is uncertain, but what it results in is isolated, unconnected performances. The actors have no time to react to what is being said to them in the scenes because they are preoccupied with getting their own lines out quickly. This is a disservice, as it means that the audience feel disconnected from the action of the play. Luckily, some of the scenes are long and repetitive, so a simple cutting of these would relieve the pressure of running time and give the actors an opportunity to take their time in scenes to listen and properly react to each other. 

Although, on the whole, the set and costume design (by designer Adrian Gee) were executed really well, there are a couple of elements which are incredibly distracting and make the production feel amateur (including for example Lowe’s wig). In addition, the vocal choice of George is confusing in that Rowe switches between an American and English accent every few lines (with the rest of the cast speaking in mostly RP). 

My One True Friend is capable of being a strong play. The cast seem like strong actors who have simply lost the ability to connect and respond to one another because of either the text or Law’s direction, but there’s no doubting the energy or enthusiasm of each of the cast.

My One True Friend is playing Tristan Bates Theatre until 14 September. For more information and tickets, visit The Actors Centre website.