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Published: 28 May 2009
Emma Cunniffe and Helen Baxendale
Emma Cunniffe and Helen Baxendale
Gated soiree is not so friendly

Hampstead Theatre

GATED communities are stran
For one thing, they are inappropriately named; they are the antithesis of communities, with their sterile gardens and eerie walkways, detached from the world outside like the Green Zone in Baghdad or the Diplomatic Enclave in Islamabad.
The anti-community impulse of those who opt for life in such bubbles is made much of in April De Angelis’s class-conscious comedy, centring around a bourgeois soiree complete with exotically-named food, petty rivalry between guests and snide remarks. The party ­setting has long been favoured by writers with a penchant for satire, perhaps because the decorum of such ­occasions just screams out to be ripped off to expose some rotten core. But the sheer vulgarity of the hosts here makes this play especially delightful.
Ironically given their attachment to privacy, husband and wife Richard (Aden Gillett) and Lara (Helen Baxendale) are public personalities. He is a politician (ex-public schoolboy, oozing smarminess), she a nouveau riche tabloid columnist with frightening high heels and nervous-aggressive ­mannerisms.
Their guests are their former neighbours from years ago, Caitlin (Emma Cunniffe), a wholesome nurse, and her husband Joe (James Dreyfus), a bearded, scruffy cynic who works at a centre where they wean kids off drugs (but himself likes more than the odd spliff). Much to Lara’s horror and Joe’s amusement, an unexpected guest arrives midway through the first half in the form of ­Shelley, a Vicky Pollard from the sink estate over the road.
So far, so many stereotypes, some might moan. Indeed, these characters are stereotypes, but that’s the point. Like a much-loved catchphrase, their familiarity is what makes them funny; we get the jokes because we already know who these people are.
But at the root of the best humour is pathos, and like the atmosphere in their gated home, Richard and Lara seem empty.
In him, this manifests itself as ideological vacuousness; in her, it becomes pent-up rage. Joe argues that Richard and Lara were not always like this. They used to have ideals when they lived in the “real world”.
Now nothing has meaning and politics is mere spin. But even Joe can offer only withering critiques, nothing constructive. With her dappy bubbliness, Caitlin seems the only character capable of true happiness.
A sense of dread pervades the brilliant set with its view out over moiling inner London and a mass of Subway wrappers and other rubbish stuffed under the stage.
You almost wish De Angelis had hammed up the doom-laden atmosphere more, but that is probably a testament to how thoroughly entertaining this play is ­– the equivalent of greedily wanting more food after devouring a three course meal.
Until June 13
020 7722 9301

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