When two estranged brothers are reunited on the morning of their father’s funeral, the friction is much more than simply fraternal as it bottles over into class and political divide in this new play by Anders Lustgarten.
Placed entirely in the grimy front room of their dad’s flat – littered with motorbike parts and take away boxes as illness constrained his movements – The City And The Town reaches back into their childhood and out in to the world around them.
One brother – Ben – had all the chances, a place at university, leaving a tired and tiring northern town for life as a London lawyer; the other – Magnus – left behind, much like the town’s economy, caring for his dad and struggling to find a place for himself both literally and metaphorically.
So far, so much cliché, but where Lustgarten’s play takes a different direction is that the dutiful son is no angel: his disaffection draws him to far right extremism. But Magnus is also no thug; he is witty, intelligent, emotionally literate. He just happens to be a recruiter for an unnamed nationalist organisation.
Drawn into the middle through events is Lyndsey, one time girlfriend of Ben and his intellectual equal but who never went to university and stayed in the town, trying to make and do her best. As the full circumstances are unveiled, she pivots uncomfortably between the smug liberalism of Ben and the hideous if, for her, more comprehensible racism, sexism and nationalism of Magnus.
There are not many theatrics in Dritëro Kasapi’s direction: one bleak piece of physical comedy aside this is a play of words and ideas more than movement. It is instead left to the cast to bring things to life, and Gareth Watkins as Magnus makes his physical imposing character likeable and approachable, and his timing with Samuel Collings (Ben) is spot on.
Amelia Donkor (Lyndsey) is only present for the second act but makes her presence felt, quickly bringing an emotional depth to her character.
The dialogue is very funny, with a mix of sharp and stupid jokes, and the propensity to sweep you along. It feels shorter than its near two-hour run time.
There is always a risk with political pieces that they fall into easy stereotype and there is a whiff of this here at times: the father as the honourable working man; the “elites in leather armchairs swigging Courvosier”.
Thankfully though there is generally more depth and nuance here, with an awareness that the failures of the political left and right have many causes and many consequences.
- The City And The Town continues at Norwich Playhouse until Saturday, March 11 2023