Roundabout – review

Shoreditch Town Hall, London

Love is hard and the future uncertain in these three plays by Nick Payne, Duncan Macmillan and Penelope Skinner, making up Paines Plough's Roundabout season. They can be seen either as standalone dramas, or together over a single day. The title refers to the steeply raked, 138-seat, circular travelling auditorium – an enticingly intimate space, which serves to magnify the plays' themes rather than cramp them.

The pick of the trio is undoubtedly Macmillan's Lungs, a two-hander set in the near future about a couple negotiating sexual politics and climate change as they contemplate having a baby. If seven billion people is already too many for the planet, is it responsible to bring another person into the world? Particularly when having a child leaves a carbon footprint as big as flying back and forth to New York every day for seven years. Richard Wilson's production matches the thrillingly fluid structure of the piece, and Macmillan's script – all nervy half lines and brittle fragments – is astonishingly assured in the way it captures the uncertainty and neuroticism of a pair who seek reassurance that they are "good people".

If Lungs posits a scenario in which knowing too much while taking too little care prompts a trauma, Nick Payne's wistful One Day When We Were Young examines the consequences of knowing too little. Violet and Lawrence seize one night of happiness in 1942, before he is sent off to fight the Japanese in the second world war. She promises to wait for him, but they don't meet until more than 20 years later. Payne writes more convincingly about young love than about old wounds, but the play works as a gripping love story, as well as a potted history of social change in Britain over a 60-year period.

At first sight, Penelope Skinner's film-noir spoof, The Sound of Heavy Rain, is a very different beast: an alcoholic private investigator is employed by Maggie to find her missing best friend, Foxie O'Hara. But beneath its teasing surface, it focuses on the illusions of love and intimacy, too: the way we often don't see what is in front of our eyes. Like all Skinner's work, it has a sharp comic edge, and if it lacks the emotional depth of the other two plays, the four remarkable actors (two from each of the previous plays) keep this romp both flying and grounded.

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Contributor

Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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