François Archambault’s The Leisure Society is a provocative look at the discontent of the wealthy. But in a series of short punchy scenes that lead the characters into ever-increasing states of inebriation, it’s never clear whether this play is a knowing satire or a comment piece on a privileged section of society.
Set in the swanky living room of the successful and groomed couple Peter and Mary, the purpose of the dinner party is to sever ties with their newly divorced friend Mark whose recent foray into designer drugs and promiscuous sex doesn’t fit in with their lifestyle as parents of a young baby – whose presence is never forgotten, screaming over a baby monitor – and potential adoptive parents of a Chinese baby.
What soon becomes clear, however is it may be less about appropriateness and more about jealousy. Melanie Gray’s Mary is a miserable, spiteful depressive who keeps a secret stash of cigarettes and Schnapps in their for-show-only piano, while Ed Stoppard’s Peter jumps at the chance of going hunting with Mark, believing him to mean a night of ‘chasing skirt’ rather than its more literal interpretation.
The pair take marital arguments to a whole new level with Peter reprimanding Mary for taking time off work to have an abortion while she takes every opportunity to belittle and emasculate her already crestfallen husband. Only Agyness Deyn’s Paula – Mark’s “special friend” – seems to have any real level of contentment to offer, sashaying across the stage in a barely there dress, her soft American drawl in direct contrast to Peter’s almost robotic transatlantic speech, thick with anxiety.
Archambault’s premise is an interesting one; do people with everything have the right to feel unsatisfied with their lot? The playwright has framed the question with the most unlikeable of characters, all played impressively by the strong cast. Suicide is dealt with in the most flippant of ways, smacking someone else’s child is less important than whether they think you look old or not, Chinese babies are desirable because they will grow up to be piano players and women can be ‘borrowed’.
Offensive or pure escapism? The Leisure Society will surely split opinion, but whatever side you fall down on, it’s undeniably watchable.