The Drum, Plymouth
Economic austerity in Spain in the wake of the eurozone crisis may not appear the most exciting of topics for theatre but in her new play, Merit, Alexandra Wood uses it to explore the impact of desperate times on ordinary people. The two-hander focuses on a young woman, Sofia, and her relationship with her mother, Patricia, in a period of high unemployment, house repossessions and civil unrest. Despite competition for jobs, Sofia has been appointed PA to one of the country’s top bankers but her mother fears her daughter has sold her soul and possibly her body for the sake of a salary. The play follows the moral dilemmas of living in a society where the poor are getting poorer and the bankers are still filthy rich, asking how far people will go to bring about change.
Although set in modern Spain, with Spanish names and a Spanish bull on the poster, Merit has a timeless quality, examining themes relevant to any society going through economic upheaval. It also explores broader ideas such as our responsibilities towards others when money is short: Patricia questions Sofia’s decision to give to charity when people are losing their homes just as many people question whether countries in recession should continue to give aid to the developing world. The moral conflicts are reflected in Matthew Wright’s abstract set, made up of steps decorated with faded Spanish tiles with a backdrop of geometric shapes evoking the modern skyscrapers of the banks blamed for the economic crisis.
There are not a lot of laughs for a play that bills itself as “darkly funny” but there is a sharp, sardonic wit in the cut and thrust between the two characters. In a strong performance, Rebecca Lacey brings out the humour and grittiness of a protective mother whose everyday concerns for her ambitious daughter, played by Lizzy Watts, belie a steely determination. Under director Jennie Darnell, the dark humour works best as the drama takes a more sinister turn, twisting to the play’s shocking, ambiguous conclusion.
Merit runs until February 14. For more information visit The Drum website.