facebook play-alt chevron-thin-right chevron-thin-left cancel location info chevron-thin-down star-full help-with-circle calendar images whatsapp directions_car directions_bike train directions_walk directions_bus close home newspaper-o perm_device_information restaurant school stay_current_landscape ticket train

Becky Shaw

Published 21 January 2011

As Philip Larkin wrote, “They f*** you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do”. In the case of almost all the characters in Gina Gionfriddo’s new play Becky Shaw, nothing could be more apt.

Suzanna is trying to come to terms with her father’s death while finding out that she didn’t know him as well as she thought she did; Max was abandoned by his own father as a child and brought up by the acerbic Susan, Suzanna’s mother; Becky has been disowned by her racist parents. It is fair to say that Gionfriddo’s characters have issues.

Set on the East coast of America, this is a well observed modern comedy which unpicks relationships; between mother and daughter, man and woman, husband and wife. The central relationship is the triangle between emotional PhD student Suzanna, her sickly, sharp-tongued mother and the man who has supported them both, Suzanna’s surrogate brother Max. When Suzanna and her new husband Andrew set Max up on a date with Andrew’s workmate Becky, this already emotionally complex relationship is thrown into disarray.

A character piece, Becky Shaw is driven by Gionfriddo’s razor-sharp script and strong performances from the actors who speak it. American actor David Wilson Barnes has perfected his delivery of Max’s desert-dry wit, which he uses as a shield against emotion. “Prostitution, marriage, same thing,” he says at one point. As a product of Susan’s parenting style, it is easy to see how he has ended up this way. Equally caustic and prosaic, Haydn Gwynne’s Susan says the recent death of her husband was “not a loss, it’s a transition”. It’s no wonder that the vulnerable Suzanna (Anna Madeley) has turned to Vincent Montuel’s hilariously sensitive writer Andrew – he cries at pornography – as an antidote to all this brutal plain speaking.

The catalyst for meltdown is Daisy Haggard’s Becky. At first we assume – along with Max – that she is a brainless bimbo, but it quickly becomes apparent that this may not be the case. She soon has her claws into both Max and Andrew – in very different ways – and it is left to Suzanna to try and extricate them all from the fallout of this impressively misjudged blind date.

Swapping between hotel room and apartment, park bench and cafe, the play is kept moving by Jonathan Fensom’s clever design which uses a stage revolve to smooth the transition between scenes.

Though some of the American terms require an explanatory reference in the programme, Becky Shaw, on the whole, successfully makes the transition from New York, where it premiered, to play in front of British audiences at the Almeida theatre. After all, though the relationships depicted are extreme, they touch on issues that are universal.



Sign up

Related articles