Different Class at the Barons Court Theatre
A meditation on youth, ambition and what constitutes success lies, a bit too well hidden, at the heart of Kevin Lee’s Different Class, an odd couple romantic comedy currently playing at the Barons Court Theatre.
For a slender one-hour show set in a party-trashed flat, Lee tries to take down far too many targets, while also indulging in some light-hearted banter and a liberal sprinkling of rom-com tropes. London rent prices, hipsters, PR, office jobs, Russell Howard, Live at the Apollo: they all come under attack from wannabe comedian Andy, clogging up the first half of the play under the weight of its own soft-edged snark. It doesn’t help that the playwright’s concept of class seems to boil down to “Northern” or a “spoilt middle class kid who has been to university”, shackling his often accurate, if unoriginal, observations to an underdeveloped viewpoint.
Yet when Lee moves beyond this litany of generic complaints to a more specific kind of characterisation, Different Class begins to find its feet. As Andy performs a sliver of stand-up, and is then forced to explain his attempt at irony to a confused Maria, the character stops being an amalgam of Northern grievances about the capital and instead becomes someone more passionate and well-rounded. There is still something sloppy about the plot point’s execution, however. The risk of using stand-up comedy in a piece of drama, and needing it to be funny, is one that, here, is barely pulled off, and it is hard to reconcile the bland witticisms Andy regularly produces with the kind of alternative comedy he wants to perform on stage.
After a stiff start, Harriet Grenville as Maria and Duncan Mason as Andy begin to warm to each other, and by the end of the play there is burgeoning chemistry between the pair that helps elevate the final scenes. Grenville especially impresses, despite being handed the slighter of the two roles, grounding the party-loving if unsatisfied Maria with a genuine warmth. Yet the actors are hampered by Lee’s script, which can only fleeting escape the genre-trappings it is so keen to trade in.
Different Class is on at the Barons Court Theatre from 19th to 23rd July 2016, for further information or to book visit here.