The programme carries an interview with the writer Gina Gionfriddo who says that her Becky Shaw is Thackeray’s Becky Sharp ‘turned loose in contemporary America’. Like Ms Gionfriddo, I have read Vanity Fair (twice, in fact) and, if Becky Shaw is, indeed, loosely modelled on one of Thackeray’s most enduring characters, then I have to re-read his book for the third time.
Becky Shaw has nothing of Becky Sharp’s innovativeness, inventiveness or steely ambition. In fact, we leave the theatre wondering if Becky Shaw is a woman who has self esteem issues and who desperately needs to be with a man to validate her life or if she is conniving behind her hapless mask. The way Daisy Haggard portrays Becky Shaw – giving the audience much laughter – seems to suggest the former but nonetheless, this is the least plausible character in this play.
Despite this, Becky Shaw is an astute, quick-witted play about love and relationships with families, lovers and strangers. One of the main events in this play is a blind date set up for Becky Shaw and Max – a wealth manager in Boston. This blind date ends up as a disaster, involving a mugging incident, a visit to the police station, followed by sex on their first date. Becky’s consequent response to this bad date – seeking Max’s adopted sister (Suzanna) and her husband ( Andrew) to help her; blackmail; and an attempted suicide – begins to destroy the marriage of Suzanna and Andrew.
The play’s observations about romantic relationships and marriages should touch a nerve or two with the audience. Soon after Max is introduced to Becky Shaw, Max tells Suzanna, ‘Romantic relationships are the pairing of equals. That woman is not my equal!’ But the most poignant remarks about marriages are left to Suzanna’s mother, Susan, in the last Act when she tells her daughter that we can never know the absolute truth about our spouses and neither should we attempt to have ‘absolute honesty’ in marriages/relationships for this is ‘a prescription to misery’.
David Wilson Barnes who plays Max steals the show – his character isn’t always nice but he does make you crave for his presence on stage. He was one of the original Broadway cast members so it is especially good for the London audiences that he is able to resurrect his character for the Almeida.
Almeida Theatre has a small and intimate stage and it isn’t always easy to produce plays such as Becky Shaw which has 9 scenes but the production team’s ingenious revolving stage deserves an applause. The changing of scenes is seamless although during the latter half of the play (when the plot speeds up), we can hear some of the furniture being moved behind the screens.
This play is ‘officially’ launched this Thursday and I was told that the production last night was a ‘work-in-progress’ but judging by what I saw, I am not sure that there is much more they can hone in on. It was a delectable evening.
Becky Shaw is at the Almeida Theatre till 5 March.