Trapped somewhere between social commentary and psychodrama; between character study and dystopian farce, Safer is a play as schizophrenic as its characters, and often as empty as the reactionary assumptions it seeks to unravel. Aaron Lamont’s new play has solid concepts at its core; of age trapped indoors through fear of youth, and of the extent individuals will go to in order to enforce their view of the world on the more vulnerable. Frustratingly, these are never explored in sufficient detail, and the drama ultimately collapses under a combination of weighty issues and slack dramatic pacing.
Nevertheless, strong performances are given by both Maggie Turner as the ailing pensioner Betty, and Michael Grinter as her jovially protective husband Phil. The action takes place entirely within their bunker-like home, triple locked against an outside world which has turned feral. Phil protects his wife in the face of a society which has collapsed, until the entrance of Ant, apparently a young thief, throws their isolated world into chaos. The early sections of the play are written with some skill, and the easy flow of Lamont’s dialogue demonstrates a degree of promise in his work, but there is little real tension in Phil and Betty’s exchanges.
Neither Lamont’s script nor Bate’s occasionally flat direction succeeds in drawing the audience into the claustrophobic world which Phil dominates. Attempts at black humour (such as the fate of Betty’s cat) are incongruous and fall flat, and moments which should pack considerable dramatic power, such as the revelation that Phil abandoned his son because he couldn’t accept his sexuality, are brushed away as quickly as they are raised. The presence or absence of society, or even the fruitlessness of that dichotomy, are only alluded to, as the social and political ramifications of Lamont’s drama are allowed to vanish beneath the surface.
The play is structured around what is clearly intended to be a game-changing revelation, but this comes too late, and is too entirely predictable to salvage what has been, up until that point, a wholly incredible premise. This form of dramatic structure is perilous; often, as in this case, leading to aggravation rather than surprise, as the pieces of the puzzle thud inexorably into place. Was the play to focus more directly on the character of Phil, and to develop a real emotional arc for his and Betty’s relationship, the twist would be easier to conceal and the overall effect far more satisfying.
The action plays out within a convincing set, a make-shift dwelling place somewhere between a bungalow and a bunker, yet a lack of attention to detail once again deadens any prospect of tension or immersion. The lighting lacks crucial realism, their hide-out appears brightly lit even when only a few torches are shining, and little attempt is made to use it atmospherically.
A misfire from a writer who has some demonstrable talent, and a production which falls somewhere south of average, Safer is difficult to recommend.
Safer is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 23rd October, Book via their website.