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Alligators review at Hampstead Theatre, London – ‘knotty and nuanced’

Alec Newman and Susan Stanley in Alligators at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Day Alec Newman and Susan Stanley in Alligators at Hampstead Theatre, London. Photo: Robert Day
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Andrew Keatley’s Alligators has serious bite. Revised and refined since its 2016 developmental run, Simon Evans’ production returns to the Hampstead Theatre Downstairs a tightly wound, teasingly open-ended five-hander, depicting the horribly plausible disintegration of one man’s life with patient understatement and arresting humanity.

Teacher Daniel (Alec Newman) and stay-at-home mum Sally (Susan Stanley) are happily married young parents, leading a relatively stress-free London life of unbearable cuteness. Then allegations of historical sex abuse against Daniel surface, and his family get embroiled in a ceaselessly shifting minefield of damaging accusations and desperate denials.

Keatley’s play is impressively mature, squeamishly embracing the problematic subject at hand. His characters feel utterly three-dimensional, his dialogue segues smoothly between unshowy chit-chat and impassioned speeches, and his spiralling narrative drips doubt into the audience’s minds like a leaky tap. He astutely observes how one loose thread can unravel an entire life, elegantly working Daniel’s nightmarish ordeal into a resonant Millerian metaphor about society.

Evans directs with unfussy briskness on Polly Sullivan’s transverse, Ikea showroom set, and Newman and Stanley supply two superb central performances, he as a latter-day John Procter, slowly sliding from disbelief to dismay to despair, she as the increasingly uncertain passenger strapped in for the ride. It’s in the play’s tear-jerking final moments, when the enormity of events comes quietly crashing down on them both, that Keatley delivers his devastating knockout blow.

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A knotty, nuanced new drama about historical abuse allegations and their nightmarish consequences