Mike Bartlett’s name will ring a bell for some theatregoers.
Perhaps you saw his 2009 Royal Court hit Cock at the Old Fitzroy in 2015. Maybe you saw the spectacular and stingingly funny Charles III when London’s Almeida Theatre brought its touring production to the Roslyn Packer in 2016. It was one of that year’s outstanding productions.
An Intervention is a more recent play (it debuted in 2014), smaller in terms of scale but no less smart.
London, the present day or close to it. “A” and “B” are best friends.
“A” (Jessica-Belle Keogh) is a fun-loving, heavy drinking extrovert who, among other things, is fiercely opposed to her government’s latest venture – a military incursion into an unnamed Middle Eastern country wracked by violent civil war.
“B” (Bardiya McKinnon) is a more reserved character, drinking less these days thanks to the influence his new girlfriend, Hannah (whom we never meet). He’s broadly supportive of the decision to send in the troops and put an end to the bloodshed.
In the old days, A and B would have shouted at the telly, argued, cracked open another bottle and made up. But with Hannah’s presence on the scene, and B’s no-show at a protest rally, an irreparable fault line seems to have opened up in the relationship, which Bartlett explores in five briskly truthful scenes set before red drapes (a Jonathan Hindmarsh design) and illuminated with scalloped footlights as if it were an elaborate vaudeville sketch.
A and B are written to be played by actors of any age, gender or ethnicity. This production, arguably, is built on the least adventurous of Bartlett’s casting possibilities, but you can’t fault the quicksilver quality of Keogh and McKinnon’s work. Their rapport is obvious and their comic timing impressive.
Both are able to steer their characters into deeper levels as B becomes more distant and disapproving and A’s behaviour becomes more desperate, her drinking more destructive, her life more chaotic.
Directed with close attention to pace and rhythm by Erin Taylor, An Intervention delivers on at least two levels, first as a vivid study of troubled friendship, and then – more metaphorically – as a provocation that asks how far we are prepared to intervene in the lives of others and how long we are prepared to stick around when things get messy.