Merit review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘maddeningly inexact’
First seen at Theatre Royal Plymouth in January 2015, Alexandra Wood’s punchy two-hander about the effect of austerity in Spain has gained a whole new creative team for its London premiere but – sadly – has lost none of its relevance.
Sofia, fresh from university, has scored herself a plum job as PA to a filthy rich banker while many of her more able peers – the lost generation – are mired in perpetual unemployment. Her mother wonders out loud just how her daughter might have landed such a job.
It’s a cracking opening. The mother’s moral ambivalence (not to mention jealousy) at accepting handouts from her corporate sell-out daughter is palpable. The fact that it emerges as a dig about sleeping her way into employment is delicious.
But then the play jerks in a different direction, as Sofia becomes a mouthpiece for benevolent capitalism and her mother the spokeswoman for the suffering masses. Despite the efforts of performers Ellie Turner and Karen Ascoe, huge swathes of Merit are essentially a long bickering match between the world’s haughtiest daughter and Spain’s most unreasonable mother. Each scene is a vague repetition of the last, while the dialogue is often maddeningly inexact.
While there are some juicy ideas at the heart of the play – the corrupting influence of money, Baby Boomers vs Millennials – it all became hopelessly tangled as the meek mother lurches further into anti-austerity extremism. Her transformation is somewhat – purposefully, I think – ridiculous and it strikes me that director Tom Littler might have benefited things by offering up a more satirical reading of the play. There is a lot more humour in the play than this production allows for.
We need your help…
When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.
The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.
We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.
Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.