The Engagement - Review
The engagement looks to tackle the issue of alcohol addiction through one woman’s story of her struggles and the impact it has on her life and those around her. The play starts in a bar with Gerri with her sister Luanne and it’s clear from the start that Gerri drinks a lot, though the dependency on it is not yet shown. She is waiting for her date, John, and they quickly move in together and become engaged. It is during this relationship that Gerri’s addiction becomes clearer and the focus of the production.
As fast as the couples relationship moves the scenes move even faster so you don’t ever see the characters and their relationship develop. The quick fire scenes prevent you learning anything about them in order to care about them. All you see is the relationship speeding along without really explaining why. There are no meaningful conversations or seeing them having fun together and thus the relationship is thoroughly unconvincing. Thinking back I know nothing about the lead except she’s an addict with a rich father. As for John I only know he works for a council. The other major factor missing is any history about how she got to this point. She is an addict at the start of the show but with no history of how she got there or even any hints.
It’s a weak and cliched script with weak characterisation. The actors struggle with the script and combined with at times awkward performances the lead couple are unbelievable characters. The sister Luanne was the most well-drawn character, thoughtfully played by Velenzia Spearpoint, but she had limited stage time.
The writers told the director that everything they needed to know about addiction was in the script. That may be true of the effects but it missed the story and characters around it. One final point on the script is how heavy it was. There isn’t a single joke or comedy moment in the show. Given the gravity of the subject I would have expected some slight relief, especially in the couples early days.
It wasn’t all bad. The detox scene was well acted and it had some beautiful and fitting music. In terms of performance this was the highlight of the show and you get a glimpse of what Lene Kqiku can do. And it was a good set with a well considered use of space. Most of the action takes place on a raised stage but they also manage a small bar (which has high bar stools. They had thought about the sight lines so the actors can always be seen).
Overall, the play was very disjointed, partly through the rapid scenes but also through the awkwardly long breaks between scenes. It wanted to tell a story of addiction but needed first to focus on the characters. You need to care for them before you care about their story. It needs to tell you how they fell in love before addiction becomes the focus of the story. A disappointing production on a subject which could have been very powerful.