There’s something of the sit-com about the set-up to Necessity: two next-door-neighbour couples, one rich and one poor, whose lives are filled with entertaining domestic disharmony and supressed social ill-grace. That’s fair enough – it is, on one level, a witty comic play – but as the arresting prologue makes clear, there’s a sharp edge to the storyline, too. A letter meant for one couple has been mis-delivered to the other, and the secrets it contains cast a long shadow over everyone’s hopes for long-term bliss.
On the downmarket side of the garden fence, we find Stephen: full of cheeky attitude and pushy confidence, like one of the less odious contestants on The Apprentice. He lives with his out-of-work partner Mish, and the opening scene is full of sharp-tongued but loving banter – an entertaining back-and-forth with a slightly ugly undertone, which conceals (as we later learn) some genuine fractures in their relationship.
The posh house next door, meanwhile, is occupied by the catty Veronika: oh-so polite, oh-so superior and oh-so collected, at least until Mish finally does what we’ve been longing for and gives her a piece of her mind. But Veronika’s husband Stephen is perhaps the best-observed character of all. An inventor and engineer, he’s logically forthright, unintentionally abrasive and rather hard to get to know. As we spend time in his company, though, he becomes positively loveable – and when matters come to a head, he proves to be the only one with any emotional intelligence at all.
There are some serious themes alongside the humour, which on the whole are well-made. From the moment that the letter arrives, the younger couple find themselves implicated in someone else’s lie – a problem which at first intrigues them, but quickly begins to corrode their own relationship from the inside. There’s a dramatic revelation about Mish’s recent past, leading into an unexpectedly sensitive and piercing two-hander with husband Patrick; and there’s also some thought-provoking commentary on the stresses of a relationship where only one partner brings home a wage.
Overall though, I wasn’t quite sure how I was meant to respond to Necessity. If it’s a comic play, then it needs to wear that label more clearly – to give us, in essence, permission to laugh. On the other hand, if it’s meant as serious theatre with some black humour thrown in, then the spiky exchanges between characters make a few of the scenes drag. As it stands, then, I felt the production fell into an uncomfortable middle ground, where I didn’t appreciate either the humour or the drama as much as I really should have done.
But I did enjoy the characters, and the final plot twist – which neatly echoes the very start, and turns on a fact that’s cleverly planted but which I, at least, had forgotten. So there’s a lot of potential in Necessity’s script, and some fine performances from all the actors. And the audience around me, which featured a refreshing mix of ages, clearly saw plenty to relate to too.