Responsible Other, written and directed by Melanie Spencer and on at the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs, focuses on teenager Daisy as she battles with Lupus disease. A lesser known illness that predominantly attacks young people, Spencer’s play examines how its diagnosis and treatment affects her relationships.
These relationships develop upon fairly predictable lines: stuck at home and unable to participate in 16-year-old forays into drink, clubs and boys, Daisy drifts from best friend Alice, teenage stroppiness with her father is exacerbated, he deals with the burden he bears as a single father with anger and exhaustion, and the unlikely friendship Daisy forges with her unstable and hitherto estranged aunt Diane gives solace and new life to both.
As a new piece of writing, Responsible Other shows much promise: characters are well drawn and differentiated, with strong and likeable personalities. The progression of the various relationships is engaging and dramatic, and Spencer’s focus on and approach to Lupus disease is illuminating and insightful. The dialogue sometimes departs from being credibly conversational, often in the interest of humour, but exposition of emotion is dealt with sensitively.
Some characters and relationships are drawn and presented better than others. Alice Sykes as Daisy and Candassaie Liburd as her bubbly best friend Alice are superb in their portrayal of hormonal teenagedom, and their mannerisms, clothing, interests and way of relating to one another are perfectly recognisable. They bounce off one another well and the path their friendship takes is by far the most engaging and fully realised, making it fitting that its moving climax concludes the piece. Both father Peter (Andy Frame) and aunt Diane (Tricia Kelly) are less well thought through, both by the playwright and their respective actors. Frustration would be an entirely human response to the situation Peter finds himself in, but there is no attempt (even forced or superficial) to be sympathetic or understanding, and this didn’t quite ring true. Whilst the affection that grows between Daisy and her aunt is wholly convincing, there is too little expalnation for Diane’s prior absence from normal life, and the persona Kelly has drawn doesn’t help to resolve this. Nurse Bola is a bit overplayed at first by Yetunde Oduwole, but as she warms to her role she brings good dynamism, humour and warmth to her interactions with Diane.
Throughout the play the setting of scenes constantly shifts. By fully recreating a vision of the home and not even attempting to visually portray scenes shot in other locations, designer Emma Tompkins has had a very positive effect on the play, grounding it and lending it coherence whilst also indicating how limited Daisy’s life has become.
Although there are dips in credibility and some notable flaws, Responsible Other pulls through because the crucial moments of heightened emotion awaken real sympathy and are very affecting.
Responsible Other is playing at the Hampstead Downstairs Theatre until 20 July 2013. For more information and tickets, see the Hampstead Theatre website.