Theatre Review: Cost of Living, Hampstead Theatre

PUBLISHED: 16:19 04 February 2019

Adrian Lester and Katy Sullivan in Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre

Adrian Lester and Katy Sullivan in Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre

Archant

Four great performances mark out this poignant drama about the need for human connection in breadline America

Jack Hunter and Emily Barber in Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre picture by Manuel HarlanJack Hunter and Emily Barber in Cost of Living at Hampstead Theatre picture by Manuel Harlan

Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer prize winning drama about the vital importance of human connection is set in a breadline America where even Princeton grads must work three jobs to pay the medical bills.

Like previous US dramas at this address, human frailty and need goes harshly punished in a society where millions are one (pay)slip away from eviction.

We meet falteringly vulnerable Eddie, a reformed alchohlic truck driver driven to reconnect with his ex wife - a quadriplegic following a car accident.

In Adrian Lester’s beautifully performed opening monologue he explains the lifeline of her sending him text messages to ease his loneliness on the road. We go back in time to meet the prickly, sweary Ani, played with a searing truthfulness by paralympian Katy Sullivan. When she reluctantly accepts him as her carer you feel her furious resentment, fear of neediness, and ache for the past all in one.

A scene where he lovingly bathes her and taps out a tune on her arm is unbearably poignant, while her physical vulnerability is made plain in the heartstopping moment that follows.

A parallel storyline that is no less compelling but somewhat less developed, sees gruffly defensive Jess, the daughter of Eastern European immigrants, hired to care for wealthy Princeton graduate John.

Once again it’s the non disabled character who is needier, but the pair’s touching emerging relationship is rather strangled off when John behaves arrogantly towards her – a shame because Jack Hunter gives a performance of dry wit in a role that might have blossomed with greater expansion.

In fact Ed Hall’s sensitively directed production coaxes great performances all round. Lester has rarely been better than the beta and beaten Eddie, as he continues to hold out his hand in hope, in the face of wariness and aggression.

The downbeat ending just about holds water. And even if this doesn’t quite gel as a fully rounded play, Majok’s dialogue poetically captures the fragility and beauty of human bonds.

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