“You have to stop seeing the good in everyone all the time”
With Godchild, Hampstead Downstairs continues its merry way of putting on some interesting theatre yet not opening it up officially to critics with a view to protecting the creativity and experimental nature of the work being performed. Deborah Bruce’s debut play is a rather conventional affair though and being directed by Michael Attenborough does nothing to challenge this and so one is left wondering why the Hampstead Theatre are shying away from replicating the model of the Royal Court Upstairs and really capitalising on being an out and proud two-studio venue.
Better known as a director (and half of a directorial super-couple with Jeremy Herrin) Bruce’s play occupies fairly safe territory in its comedic depiction of Lou, a forty-*cough*-thirty-something carefree Londoner whose style is well and truly cramped when her nineteen-year-old god-daughter Minnie moves into her flat to take up a place at university. Having fully embraced the vagaries of metropolitan living and its consequent inhibiting effect on conventional ideas of maturity, Lou is thus forced to face the difference between feeling nineteen and the dilemmas of actually being nineteen.
And as my companion for the evening adroitly observed, the play does little else besides. Tracy-Ann Oberman channels her inner Edina Monsoon as drama queen Lou, eager to be gal-pals with Minnie but unwilling to compromise any aspect of her life to the new situation; Pearl Chanda is quietly touching as the slightly gauche Minnie, gaining much-needed experience of life even if university doesn’t quite turn out to be what she thought it would; and Michael Shaeffer and Chook Sibtain both entertain as the men being juggled by Lou and managed by Minnie.
But the writing makes little attempt to delve beneath the surface of these characters to investigate why they are like they are. Lou just revels in her self-obsessed bubble without any hint of fully-realised emotion and Minnie’s troubled past remains vaguely obscured, making her too subsidiary a character to make the necessary impact. And Bruce resorts to convention more than once – Shaeffer’s Andy has a scarcely credible moment of realisation purely for the convenience of the plot (as if this particular scenario had never crossed his mind in the last 18 years…) and the use of pot-smoking is clunkily realised, again stretching credulity for barely needed dramatic reasons.
I didn’t dislike Godchild at all, I just found it a little too stolid to really inspire me, not nearly adventurous enough to make me come skipping out of the theatre, recommending it to all and sundry. It is however well-acted and well-directed in Francesca Reidy’s well-appointed set and if it’s a piece of strong traditional drama you’re after, you can’t go much wrong here.