Review: Sunspots, Hampstead Downstairs

“Am I supposed to take abuse from people who don’t know how to fasten a herring?”

I hadn’t clocked I’d seen one of David Lewis’ plays before – Seven Year Twitch at the Orange Tree back in 2013 – and to be honest, if I had, I might not have gone to see his latest one. His writing is very much in the style of television sitcoms that I don’t watch and so whilst they have a definite appeal for some, his plays don’t instinctively rock my world. And so it was with this trip to the Hampstead’s downstairs theatre to see Sunspots.

Described as an offbeat romantic comedy (with the emphasis on ‘off’), there’s actually as much of a family drama here too as adult siblings are reunited in the family home after their father’s death. Recently out Joe has come back from California, Clare only ever moved a short distance away whilst the youngest, Tom, had already moved back due to crises of employment and passing the time watching attractive neighbour Lola through his dad’s telescope.

He’s not just a creepy stalker though, no, he’s spotted an odd-looking mole on her back and engineering a meet-cute at the swimming pool, sets about forging a relationship with her. At the same time, the siblings are dealing with their mother’s dementia and the revelations about their family’s history that are emerging and the two story strands eventually clash to create the requisite obstacle in the way of true love.

Charlotte Gwinner’s production isn’t half-bad, benefitting from a strong cast. Robert Hands and Clare Burt are good as the older siblings, Laurence Mitchell’s Tom finds a nice charm which goes some way to gloss over the dodgier aspects of his behaviour in constructing a connection with Charlotte Emmerson’s Lola and Gwen Taylor’s matriarch oversees the interesting recalibration of the family’s relationships in light of all that is revealed. 

But the humour never feels organic, with modern references to Beyoncé and the like forced in, and the convoluted plotting required to get out of the convoluted twists wears the patience very thin. One to consign to obscurity. 

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 20th June

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