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The Battle of North and South

Those of you who remember and liked Muswell Hill will enjoy Invincible – Torben Betts’ fourth play to premier at the Orange Tree – even more.

Invincible – photo by Robert DaySomehow avoiding cliché and back on familiar turf, we have neurotic Emily and long suffering, well-tempered Oliver representing the fashionable left of north west London. Though it was poignant indeed to be listening from within the play to a debate about Old Labour and Tony Benn in the week of Benn’s death, this is an aside. The point here is that the couple has emigrated to the north of England to find ‘real people’ so their children can grow up normally.

Such comic naivety is bound to meet with tragedy and, when they encounter their neighbours - Dawn and Alan - our chic anchovy-serving couple comes to know that the reality they seek is pretty uncomfortable. In fact, there is no comfort here – for either couple. There is real pain, at first whispered, then screamed, about, exposed in the lives of both pairs.

The cast complements each other in pretty much a perfect quartet. Laura Howard brings out her neuroses and disappointments so fiercely she has almost physically twisted Emily with the pain. Darren Strange’s cricket-playing Oliver is so so so jolly, you just know there’s something else going on, or there will be. Garrulous, beer-bellied postman Alan played by Daniel Copeland,  lets flashing moments of searing poetry eclipse his banal football chuntering; and Samantha, the sexy wife, drops all clichés in the last – very powerful - scene which did have this member of the audience mopping up tears (my own). It’s certainly a play of contrasts and sharp jumps and shocks.

Director Ellie Jones captures British class difference and domesticity deftly and with compassion and humour. I loved the way the scenes are linked for example with wild dancing desperately and comically counterpointing the characters’ mannered exterior restraint.

Alan Ayckborn has expressed great admiration for Torben Betts – ‘one of the most exciting theatre writing talents I have come across in many a year’. That should be enough recommendation. But if not, it’s got rave reviews from those who know better than me, in the national and theatre press.

Invincible is at the Orange Tree Theatre to 12 April

Sarah Hodgson is Group Editor at Time & Leisure Media Group