A pushy, mollycoddling mother and an intelligent, emotionally involved prostitute make for quite the female influences in Jack’s (Christopher Adams) life. One is determined for him to lose his virginity and be more “normal”, the other wants to protect him and allow him to make his own way in the world. In Sarah Page’s production on Punts, the roles played by the two women are not the stereotypical ones you might expect. This is a show about acceptance and tolerance, wrapped up in a somewhat comical storyline, written with a keen eye that cuts away at the bullshit of life’s fake pleasantries.
He may have a learning disability that resembles Aspergers, but Jack seems able to hone in on a person’s weakness with a startling level of blunt precision. Page immediately highlights that while he may not have an advanced level of emotional intelligence, Jack is in many ways the only person being truly honest in the show. Mum Annie (Clare Lawrence Moody) is desperate to cling onto her son’s innocence, despite her actions to the contrary; Dad Alistair (Graham O’Mara), a barrister, is equally reserved and seemingly unavailable; Kitty (Florence Roberts) puts on an emotionless façade to distance herself from her clients. These are characters with different journeys to take, but Page seamlessly intertwines them all with effortless skill.
It is easy to instantly draw parallels between Punts and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, not just in the main character but in Amelia Jane Hankin’s design. Dan Saggars’ fluorescent tube lighting frames the backdrop; the main furniture can be built and dismantled in pieces, so as to serve multiple functions; even Owen Crouch’s sound design has an electronic, tuneless pulse that drives the scene changes forward, characters entering and leaving the stage with robotic impersonality. Jessica Edwards ensures that every concept is layered, a little awkward but couched in subtext. As the women enter and exit, they prowl and circle the space, eyeing each other up as they shroud themselves in emotional battle armour. But when in the scene, there’s a no-frills frankness to every exchange that is simultaneously jarring and refreshing.
Page’s script makes it easy for each actor to give credible performances, but Punts is a show where each actor complements the other, a true ensemble effort. Edwards paces each exchange appropriately, never allowing the show to run away with itself. Mum and Dad engage in playful roleplay to try and spice up the marriage, unable to let go of their middle class reserved attitudes; Jack and Kitty are instantly at ease with other verbally, yet wary in their physicality. Multiple angles to each personality slot together into one dysfunctional puzzle, complete with therapy and connectivity under Page’s carefully constructed narrative.
It is Jack that gives the most engaged performance, unsurprising given the material he has to work with. Despite playing someone that is unable to process feelings, Adams layers his character in micro-reactions that overtly manifest themselves as he tries to interact on a more mature level. He is in many ways the opposite of Kitty (Roberts), who has multiple professional shields and personalities in order to separate the work from the person. Kitty can put Jack at ease one minute and throw Dad off-kilter the next – the variety in her character is approached with poise and elegance to frame an exquisitely graceful performance.
There is a point in which Punts starts to unravel slightly – an overly fraught exchange between Kitty and Dad when she suspects that Mum has reported her illicit affairs. But Edwards swiftly brings the action back on track with an impassioned, earnest speech from O’Mara that reminds us of the decency inherent in humanity. Punts is a show that may be filled with love and compassion, but it’s also a production about the expected societal standards we hold ourselves to. Page reminds us that while love has no boundaries, the need to conform can sometimes seep in and affect even the noblest of intentions.
Punts is playing Theatre503 until June 24.
Photo: Claudia Marinaro