Photo courtesy of Theatre503
There’s a longstanding joke about ‘resting’ actors in sales. Namely, that the profession is full of them. So Sold, the new play by award-winning writer Susie Miller, sets itself in the vipers’ pit of sales – the estate agents – and sounded on paper like a delicious mix of schadenfreude and emotional heart.
Sold bills itself as a comedy, and the first ten minutes were more than promising, delivering well-presented observations and generating numerous laughs. As the story progressed, however, the comic moments tailed off until there were almost none at all. It is completely understandable that when reaching the dénouement making your audience laugh is not the most important matter in a writer’s mind, but the second half was so devoid of humour that the play felt like two ill-fitting parts rather than a cohesive whole.
My central problem with Sold is this: if your audience doesn’t believe in your characters then they don’t care about them; if they don’t care about them they don’t care what happens to them; if they don’t care what happens to them then the plot holds very little interest. And these characters were almost completely one dimensional. I couldn’t help but think that perhaps they would be better fitted to a Channel 4 sketch show. With a play set in an estate agents, Miller had a chance to play with the stereotypes you immediately imagine, but instead she chooses to reinforce them. I wanted more from the pretty airhead than just being a pretty airhead. I wanted more from the quiet loner than him just being a quiet loner, and… well, you get the idea. There is little effort to add extra facets to characters, and when an attempt is made it is a glaringly obvious addition or something so out of character that it feels like a personality split has occurred, rather than a beefing up of one.
The plot also felt incredibly transparent, with no surprise or suspense. The only shocking moment comes when an exceptionally strange incident occurs. Strange because it doesn’t fit at all with the plot and also because it was such an odd thing to happen that it’s incredibly hard to relate to. The emotional moments in turn have no genuine resonance, the story is laid out so plainly it was clear that certain affairs would occur after the first few exchanges of dialogue.
It is also never made clear why Anthony is the only character to warrant not only a back-story with scenes away from the office, but also has to interact with two orbiting characters. The interludes featuring his wife don’t sit with the rest of the play and merely act as a distraction. Later, attempts to turn him into an anti-hero fail. Because we can actively see him influenced by the characters of his wife and ex we lose some of the impact afforded by monologues; we question what Anthony’s true motivation is – a discovery of real integrity or an attempt to selfishly recoup former happiness?
The actors try their best with the script and Abigail Thaw particularly impresses as office queen Hilary. She manages to inject a layer of softness hidden under Hilary’s diamond-hard exterior. The majority of the stand out comic moments arise from her performance, and she succeeds in captivating her audience with a mere raise of an eyebrow. All the performances given were measured and enjoyable, however slip ups happened often and became irritatingly distracting.
The set and lighting were one of the shows redeeming qualities. Cleverly fusing fluorescent office lighting with traditional lamps and ceiling tiles that become evermore cracked and warped as they reach towards the audience gave the theatre a claustrophobic mood. The only set needed was office chairs, which were cleverly manipulated by the actors and perfectly added to the proceedings.
Ultimately Sold didn’t come across as a mature enough piece of writing to carry the subject matter in the way it should have done. It also felt strange given that Sold sells itself as a comedy and had so many amusing moments in the initial few scenes that the second half could be so different; it meant that I was looking for laughs rather than enjoying the few that came along.
The fault, ultimately, lies in the writing. While the actors were accomplished and the set interesting and well-executed, they weren’t enough to salvage the script. Disappointingly, I have to conclude that I’d leave Sold on the market.
At Theatre503 until 15th May