The Village Bike

Published July 4, 2011

Penelope Skinner is the latest graduate of the Royal Court Young Writers Programme to turn anthropologist, creating a witty insight into the lives of a newly married couple in the midst of a heat wave.

While it may be heating up outside, inside Becky and John’s, idyllic-from-the-outside, mundane-from-the-inside marriage, the thermostat is set to cool and it’s only getting icier.

Newly pregnant, Becky finds herself wrapped up in very unsexy cotton wool by her over-cautious and over-excited husband. Left alone in the day while John goes to work, Becky is left to discover where the thrills are to be found in their new village life before being given the cold shoulder at night.

On discovering a forgotten box of porn – craftily labelled ‘Wedding crockery spare’ – the lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur and a chance encounter with the village cad, an eccentric and brash Oliver, leads Becky down a new and exciting garden path.

It’s a weighty cast for such a small space, but not unsurprising for the always over-achieving Royal Court. Romola Garai stars and is charmingly lovely as the confused and sexually frustrated Becky. As she pushes her moral boundaries further and further, her endearing nervous laughter and fumbling speech somehow give Becky an edge of innocence that is never lost, even as her actions become increasingly uncomfortable to witness.

Dominic Rowan is perfectly cast as the rakish rogue who sweeps Becky into a world of debauchery – as debauched as one can get in a village near Reading – with near to no effort, and Alexandra Gilbreath is a scene-stealer as the over-keen, upper-middle-class neighbour Jenny. Behind Jenny’s constant enthusiasm lies a heartbreaking loneliness, which Gilbreath subtly unveils as she whirls around the set desperately needing to be of help to someone.

It is husband John – played brilliantly irritatingly by Nicholas Burns – who will divide opinion. Should we feel sorry for the well-meaning husband treated so appallingly by a wife he worships? Or is his inane conversation, newly found asexuality and the fact he is too concerned by Becky buying non-organic chicken from Tesco to register the condoms on the receipt an excuse for her to look elsewhere for her kicks?

Whatever side of the fence you come down on, Skinner is set to be a playwright that sparks debate.

CM

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