Review: Diversifications, Old Red Lion Theatre ★★★☆☆

by Christopher Day.

This is a play about two trios. There’s three women, all waiting to hear whether their genetics mean they’re highly susceptible to cancer. And then there’s their husbands and partners, meeting at a pub – after the women have died. It’s a fascinating concept and offers much dramatic potential, though that is only partially fulfilled here. This is a flawed production, with sometimes clunky exposition, weak characterisation, out of place dialogue and occasionally stilted acting. But it has real strengths too – the plot naturally lends itself to an emotional exploration of how gender influences our perspectives on love, death and marriage, and the characters come to life when they interact with their partners and spouses.

Diversifications at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Photo: Ross Kernahan

Constance Villemot’s set is split in three – a pub where the blokes chat, a clinic where the women meet, and a space in-between where partners converse. We begin in the pub, with middle-class and boorish Alan (Nick Morrison-Baker) nursing a bottle of wine. He’s soon joined by Juan (Alvaro Flores) and Patrick (Jermaine Dominique), both drinking lager and struggling to adapt to being single parents. They’ve met because Alan’s ex-wife, Samantha (Janine Wood), asked him to set-up this gathering on the anniversary of her death and said that as they spoke it would become clear why she had asked them to do so. That mystery hangs over the play – why did Samantha want them to meet?

We’re then pulled back in time to the meeting of the three women at the clinic where there’s a delay in getting the results of their genetic tests. They get chatting, and make a joint decision the reverberations of which are felt throughout the play. Celebrity stylist Pamela (Juan’s partner, played by Saria Steyl) and Samantha are the most well-drawn characters, and become ever more likeable as we peer into their relationships with their partners. Corinna (Kaara Benstead), on the other hand, is always likeable as a frazzled mother of four and finance whizz, but suffers from being given plenty of out of character lines and a delivery that feels emotionless at times.

Diversifications at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Photo: Ross Kernahan

But this all changes when we witness her interactions with her husband, Patrick, and get the chance to peer into their marriage. These conversations between partners explain the decisions made by the women, and expose the regrets of the men. Emotions rather than introspection come to the fore, and both the writing and the acting thrives. The relationships, and the characters within them, feel real; it is a shame the same largely cannot be said of the characters in isolation.

It is also a shame that the discussions within each gendered group are marred by scarcely believable lines of dialogue and the unsubtle explanation of background information. There’s an odd (and lengthy) metaphor about nets which makes little sense – it relies on one finding the experience of being caught in a net cosy. These are more than just quibbles. In the first half, they break the immersion. It is only in the second half that this play and its characters draw us in with its touching insights into three different partnerships.

Diversifications is at the Old Red Lion Theatre until 2 July

Christopher Day is currently studying for a PhD in modern British history at the University of Westminster. He enjoys watching theatre, reading literature and following Stevenage FC. You can find him on Twitter @ChrisDay96.