Review: Sympathy Pains, Park Theatre, N4

PUBLISHED: 17:11 19 September 2013 | UPDATED: 17:11 19 September 2013

Sympathy Pains. Photo by Kirsty Bennett

Sympathy Pains. Photo by Kirsty Bennett


This was my first visit to the recently opened Park Theatre, situated one minute’s walk from the Finsbury Park tube, bus and railway stations. A dedicated group of young theatre professionals and architects have transformed a derelict office block into a light, welcoming space with café/bars and galleries as well as two performance areas, seating audiences of 200 and 90, respectively.

The smaller theatre is currently presenting SYMPATHY PAINS, hot from the Edinburgh Festival. This short drama is about a marriage which is supported financially by the wife, who works 11-hour days as something-in-the-city. The husband stays at home, writing plays that are never performed. Unsurprisingly, the marriage is stressful and childless – that is, until the husband becomes pregnant. There follows an interesting reversal of the situation in Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE and innumerable subsequent dramas.

The writer (Rosalind Adler) presents an accurate, sometimes hilarious, often painful picture of the scratchy everyday reality of a long-term relationship. Initially, the play is funny and intriguing and touches on numerous controversial aspects of modern life. Her innovative use of that old theatrical device, the “aside” is clever and successful. But the plot has nowhere to go and the ideas and the jokes wear thin well before the end.

The set, consisting mostly of children’s brightly-coloured plastic toys, is cleverly symbolic, inexpensive and practical. However, I did feel that its comic potential could have been much more fully exploited, especially as the plot begins to falter. And the music, amusing at first, becomes rather too pat.

Rosalind Adler, in addition to writing the piece, plays the put-upon wife with wit, rage, exasperation, despair and love. But she is never quite convincing as the high-powered career woman. Crispin Letts, as the husband, establishes a superb rapport with the audience from the outset, exploiting every scrap of potential the script offers. His performance is both funny and touching – especially in the “annunciation” scene, which is the high spot of the play.

Jill Truman

*** (Three out of five stars)

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