Becky Shaw – Almeida Theatre

Despite what TV shows such as Friends would have us believe, life for 30-something American’s doesn’t always end happily ever after. Gina Gionfriddo’s Becky Shaw arrives at Islington’s Almeida Theatre after success off-Broadway, and while the comedy may be American it transfers well to a UK audience.

Here is the ultimate case of happy families gone wrong. Newly weds Suzanna and Andrew seem an unlikely pairing. Wannabe writer Andrew would rather be working the bohemian life in a coffee shop than his current office manager role. Wife Suzanna had a wealthy upbringing that has come to an abrupt halt with the death of her father. Her outspoken mother does her best to fuel the flames by embarking on an affair within months of her father dying while her adopted brother and financial advisor Max, adds to the complexity by having a incestuous infatuation with Suzanna.

Enough drama here to last anyone a lifetime you would think, but to add to their woes the whirlwind of the title character enters their life. Becky is desperate to escape her stalled life; having dropped out of University, been dumped by a string of men and cut off by her racist family. Her set up blind date with Max ends in disaster but proves to be the catalyst for some sort of resolution for this dysfunctional family.

Gionfriddo’s scipt is packed full of dark humor and wit with many lines not just dripping, but positively oozing, acid. None of the characters are portrayed with sympathy and on first glance it is difficult to like any singular character. It is a clever device, even the initially weak and vulnerable Becky proves she is adept at manipulating others for her own needs. By the end of the piece we get the feeling that this group of damaged people are welcome to each other.

Peter DuBois’ direction is fast paced and fluid, making full use of Jonathan Fensom’s clever revolving set to convey a range of locations across the Eastern seaboard. Performances are strong throughout the company. David Wilson Barnes as cold, calculating Max, Haydn Gwynne’s caustic mother Susan, Anna Madeley as lynchpin daughter Suzanna and Vincent Montuel as deceptively week Andrew. As the title character Becky however, Daisy Haggard excels. Suitably underplayed she avoids the trap of playing the role as a blond bimbo, showing instead a cool calculating brain that isn’t as dumb as first thought.

The ending may seem somewhat unsatisfying but Becky Shaw is a wonderful acerbic look at the outwardly rosy, but inwardly tumultuous American family life.

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