I and You at Hampstead Theatre
Pairing Zach Wyatt – a recent graduate from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama – and Maisie Williams – who has never starred on stage before – in a relatively new play could have been a complete catastrophe. But not only does the show avoid falling into the abyss, it actually proves itself to be excellently entertaining and at times profoundly powerful. Witty and heart-warming, I and You is a blast.
Part of the production’s success undoubtedly comes from Lauren Gunderson’s prowess as a writer. The premise is simple enough: seriously sick and housebound Caroline is forced to resort to social media for company. One day, her classmate Anthony pays her an unwanted visit to work with her on a school project based on Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Though initially less than happy about this prospect, Caroline gradually grows to enjoy not only Whitman’s poetry but also the companionship of Anthony, with whom she develops a deep bond.
Despite the obvious placement in contemporary America, the drama avoids resorting to providing only pop-cultural references for humour. On the contrary, most of the jokes are perfectly witty and ensure a good time, partly thanks to the actors’ succinct comedic timing. Both Williams and Wyatt deliver superb performances which – despite moments of overacting – are largely believable and likeable.
Sadly, there are occasional flaws in the writing, mainly centred around Anthony’s character. At times he is meant to represent too much at once: at first, he appears to be a socially awkward nerd, but later it turns out he’s actually a rather popular student who happens to play the saxophone and basketball. The ending, too, while foreshadowed well enough, feels a bit like a cop-out.
But these imperfections only slightly mar an otherwise pristine play which finds its strongest moments when exploring its themes. Whitman’s poetry is given fresh air as an affirmation of life and happiness, juxtaposed perfectly with Caroline’s death-ridden character. This never feels forceful as the aspects of friendship, hopes and dreams which the piece examines are all woven seamlessly together in a powerful whole.
Taken together, all these positive aspects make I and You a must-see, even if it isn’t completely flawless – not because it proclaims a message of being happy at all costs, but because it powerfully delivers the point that even in the darkest of times, life can be enjoyed to the fullest.
Photo: Manuel Harlan
I and You is at Hampstead Theatre from 19th October until 24th November 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.