Written by Tabitha Mortiboy
Directed by Hannah Hauer-King
Runs at Theatre503 (London) until 18th May
Mortiboy’s one act four-hander starts simply enough. Young couple Katie and Hope work in their local corner shop, teasing their frazzled but good-natured boss Jo and passing time. The rhythm of days is marked by a tiny radio on the counter and the ease between the three women and their natural banter is entertaining enough, if not groundbreaking. The equilibrium of the little shop is thrown off though by newcomer – teenage Michael, on his gap year. Michael is precocious and socially awkward and immediately takes a shine to Katie who, although she tells him ‘no’ clearly enough, is so careful to appease him, and so wary of backlash, that she neglects, time and again, to make clear that she and Hope are a couple.
Olivia Rose Smith as Katie really carries the play – genuinely sweet and affectionate and funny, but always struggling with her fear of being objectionable and her socially-ingrained need to mollify men – while Misha Butler as Michael is suitably sinister as the awkward geek who reveals the toxic underbelly of male entitlement as the plot unfolds. His desperation to impress Katie and to claim her sours into a simmering resentment that he is having to ‘wait’ for her affection. It’s a story we’re all too familiar with but that doesn’t make the inevitable crescendo any less compelling.
Underexplored is the subplot of Hope’s disappointment as Katie persistently refuses to acknowledge their relationship, beyond the confidence of kindly Jo and the safety of their shop walls. Her conflicting feelings about whether she chooses to ‘let down’ her partner or her conservative family leave Katie isolated as Michael’s behaviour becomes increasingly intimidating and unbalanced.
In part gentle character study and in part an exposé of the ubiquity of straight white male entitlement, the play has a lot to offer; all it really lacked was a scene between Hope and Jo where they could both explain how they felt about Katie and her reticence. A little slow in places and perhaps lacking the resolution we may have wanted, it is nonetheless an absorbing 80 minutes with an excellent cast and a natural, witty script that builds to a tense climax. Many of us, especially from small towns, will have felt the parallel frustrations Katie and Hope feel about being out, and defying male desire, and that emotional honesty shines through the play.
© Sophie London 2019