Review:An Hour and A Half Late. Cambridge Arts Theatre

An Hour and A Half Late
Cambridge Arts Theatre
4th April 2022

Originally written by French playwrights Gerald Sibleyras and Jean Dell, “Une Heure Et Demie De Retard” has been recently adapted by Belinda Lang (of ‘2.4 Children’ fame, who also directs the piece). For those of you with excellent French skills, you’ll have already done the translation. For the rest of you, the English-language version “An Hour & A Half Late” has been touring the UK for the last couple of months, where it plays its final stop at the Cambridge Arts Theatre this week.

Peter (Griff Rhys Jones) is ready to head out the door to meet his business partner for a pre-planned dinner to celebrate a lucrative new deal. His wife Laura (Janie Dee) decides to pick this moment to announce that she’s unfilled in her life, struggling with “empty nest syndrome” now that their youngest child has gone off to university, unhappy that she’s too young to become a grandmother at 53, depressed that she’s missed the best years of her life and fearful that nothing lies in her future other than death. Keen to leave, Peter tries to placate her and says they’ll talk about it all later when they get back after the dinner, but Laura refuses to leave, and decides that they’re going to talk about it all now. Played in a single location and in real-time, the two-hander play uses the 90-minute conversation (well, argument, mostly) to explore the couple’s history, passions, mutual frustrations, dreams, and a few buried secrets.

As a brief snapshot into the dynamics of a couple’s relationship, ‘An Hour & A Half Late’ is entertaining enough, and competently directed by Lang, but its central aim feels unclear. Audiences will undoubtedly recognise the characters’ annoying traits in their own spouses, and perhaps this is its purpose, but the play doesn’t seem sure of what it’s trying to say. Peter and Laura clearly love each other but equally spend a good 80% of the play discussing everything that drives them crazy, and you can’t help feeling perhaps they’d be better off living separate lives, especially at the onset of retirement where they’ll be forced to spend even more their time together. It may be that the underlying point of it all is simply “you’re bound to annoy each other a lot but ultimately love is more important”, but if so, it’s not massively profound.

The play keeps a decent pace (played straight through without interval was a wise choice with this one), and you do care about the characters, even if you’re not sure why you’re on this journey with them. The script is engaging and littered with funny dialogue throughout (the lion’s share being given to Jones), although the play loses its finesse when it tries to go too physically farcical, particularly when the characters trash the living room to conquer Laura’s perfectionism, and also Jones gorging himself on food which isn’t very easy on the eyes.

Although the reason for the play may be somewhat unclear, the casting makes it a worthwhile watch. Jones and Dee are both Oliver-Award-winning character actors and they display why here, with impeccable timing and great chemistry together. Few actresses deliver ice-cold quips quite as well as Dee, and she conveys Laura’s struggles brilliantly. Jones impresses too as the exasperated Peter, chewing on his lines and wringing every drop of comedy out of them, clearly relishing the character. He does have far more likeable material to play than Dee, and it would’ve been nice for them to be evened out a bit, but both are endlessly watchable.

Relating to (and subsequent enjoyment of) this play will vary across audiences. Married couples will feel a lot of familiarity and common ground with the characters. Independent singletons will wonder why Peter can’t just go to the dinner on his own and that the characters should have more individual lives if they’re that unhappy together, because being single is better than being miserable. But either way, Jones and Dee make it an entertaining 90 minutes, and are worth taking a trip to their living room for.

‘An Hour & A Half Hour’ runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 9th April 2022.
Performance runtime 90 minutes without interval.

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