Sympathy Pains at the Park Theatre
Guy (Crispin Letts) is a washed-up playwright who hasn’t had a well-received show since 1993. He lives perennially in the shadow of his wife Chris (Rosalind Adler), a successful career woman who works long hours. He feels neglected and creatively stifled; she feels unappreciated and overworked. He doesn’t want her to be his mother; she doesn’t want to be his husband. It’s a relationship on the rocks.
The terse back-and-forth of barbed exchanges between Guy and Chris is just about believable but made all the more awkward by the attempt to shoehorn laughs into the script. The characters make eyes and the occasional aside to the audience, treating them like the child caught in the middle of warring parents – the child that Guy and Chris never had. That is until one day, Guy inexplicably becomes pregnant. Chris is bemused but grudgingly humours him. For the first time in years Guy is glowing. He has a sense of purpose and becomes frantically inspired to write again.
It is interesting that Adler, the real-life writer of the play, has cast herself as the go-getting career woman opposite a struggling playwright. It is clear that the few moments of pathos are gleaned from her own experiences as a striving creative.
Sympathy Pains successfully shows both sides of the coin: it illustrates that life as a freelance writer is not all rosy, even if you have a spouse to support you financially. But equally, being a six-figure salary-earning careerist is not always fulfilling either, especially if it stops you from doing other things in your life, like parenthood.
The attempts by the couple to spice things up in the bedroom seem like an obvious nod to 50 Shades of Grey, and the brief mention of “iPads and tablets” is tokenistic. Both feel like awkward attempts to make the play topical.
The acting at times verges on hyperbolic, especially when the characters go for cheap laughs. But the biggest disappointment is that for a comedy, Sympathy Pains just isn’t that funny.
Sympathy Pains is at the Park Theatre until 22nd September 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.