Faye (Grace Martin) and Jess (Molly Marr-Johnson) have been best friends since their first year at uni. They live together, party together and support each other through thick and thin. But now Faye’s got a new boyfriend, Alf (Douglas Clarke-Wood), and Jess isn’t dealing with it well. Are her misgivings just paranoia, sparked by a trauma that still haunts her from years before – or is she right to be concerned?
Redemption, which marks the writing and directorial debut of Emily Shanks, is a compelling and very well acted play about friendship, dating and the complexities that come with taking our first steps into adulthood, whether we feel ready for it or not. Touching also on issues of mental health and childhood trauma, it’s packed full of twists and turns, with the audience never quite knowing who we can trust, and concludes with an explosive climax that’s both shocking and emotional to watch.
The cast of four are excellent; the intimacy between them is very convincing, and there’s a playfulness to their physical and spoken interactions that feels totally natural. (This is all the more impressive given that Douglas Clarke-Wood only took over the pivotal role of Alf a week or so before opening night.) Grace Martin and Molly Marr-Johnson are particularly strong as the two best friends, whether they’re teasing each other mercilessly or having a serious heart-to-heart. It only takes a few minutes for the audience to become completely engaged with their relationship, which makes it all the more difficult later as we see it begin to fracture under pressure.
The play isn’t just about female friendship, though, and the bond between Alf and his own best friend Nick (Nicholas Marrast Lewis) is equally strong, though far more complex and a lot less demonstrative. And then there’s the relationship between the girls and Nick, which is different again – he’s the classic Gay Best Friend of sitcom tradition, but even this relatively conventional friendship holds a surprise or two.
The action takes place entirely in Faye and Jess’s flat, with a beautifully detailed set that feels genuinely lived in. The lighting is realistic for a cosy, lamp-lit living room, though at times – particularly in the opening scene – this can make it hard to see what’s going on. The production also feels like it needs to find its feet in terms of timing and structure – at just over 80 minutes long, the inclusion of an interval feels unnecessary and needs to be more clearly announced (it took the opening night audience very much by surprise). The play’s conclusion, though powerful, also feels slightly abrupt.
These, however, are minor details that can no doubt be worked out over the course of the run. The play itself – both the story and its characters – already makes for quality viewing, thanks to strong writing and performances across the board. An impressive debut and well worth a visit.
Redemption is at the Drayton Arms Theatre until 21st September.