This week’s A Level results day will set in motion one of the starkest realisations of class division in Britain: those who go to university and those who don’t. This phenomenon isn’t unique to 2017. The annual exodus from towns across the UK of teenagers who made it through the UCAS system has been a reliable calendar fixture for years. And despite more or less effective attempts to open up the university system to more than a fraction of society, taking an Undergraduate degree remains an overwhelmingly middle class pursuit.
Through the characters of Lorna (Sally Messham) and Grace (Katie Elin-Salt), playwright Elinor Cook explores how the pathways available to different people shape their childhood and adult lives. In Out of Love, premiering at the Summerhall Roundabout, Lorna and Grace are childhood best friends. But along with the normal difficulties of preserving a closeness across adolescence and beyond, there’s another force lurking outside their bubble that keeps suggesting itself.
With the arrival of Lorna’s new stepdad comes a change in address. Even without his active suggestion that she spend less time with Grace, the new lifestyle starts to do its pervasive work in taking the two away from each other. Lorna goes on a foreign holiday to somewhere Grace “wouldn’t have heard of”. The small vocalisation betrays the insidious prejudices that creep, almost unconsciously, into more affluent minds.
Then there’s the boy from the private school down the road, who invites Lorna to their regular dance whilst barely saying one word to Grace. Further forward in the story (as part of a play that dashes back and forth through time), there’s Grace’s factory job whilst Lorna clings to the first rungs of the ‘career ladder’ being the assistant to a prick of a boss belonging in 1956. Ditto the suggestion of private health care, which Lorna can easily borrow the money for even when she can’t directly pay for it herself. Listen carefully, and you’ll also note how Lorna’s accent shifts to the south of Britain, whilst Grace’s stays the same.
The sweetness of Cook’s play is that it shows how, with so much dragging them apart, the friendship of Lorna and Grace somehow prevails. It would be easy to compare the intensity of their childhood bond to a romantic relationship, but in many ways it’s stronger because it withstands any number of arguments, ruptures and separations.
Cook also does a good job at depicting the impact of economic circumstance on people’s lives. However, there are points where the underlining ideas of the piece appear to outweigh both the dramatic tension and the believability of the dialogue. There are several plodding lines where the characters essentially speak aloud what should be implied. Yet at each juncture where I started to lose faith, something would drag me back in; either the essential truth of what the play was exploring or, as part of James Grieve’s production, some of the non-verbal moments. The two heads, one blonde and one brunette, almost touching as, temporarily, nobody and nothing exists but them.
Out of Love runs until 27 August 2017 at Summerhall Roundabout. Click here for more details.