The scene is an average flat in 1980’s Brixton, but the inhabitants are anything but products of their rough and real surroundings. Elegant, slim limbs peer from under a duvet slung on the floor, belonging to one of the six beautiful inmates, young graduates from Oxford, simply dying for their morning cigarettes and coffee.
Doug Lucie’s revival of Hard Feelings, set right in the heart of a seminal point in the Thatcher era, the 1981 Brixton riots, sometimes stretches our belief at whether these are living, breathing people. But no matter, for the most part, we enjoy snooping into their decadent, hedonistic world, which the small space of the Finborough theatre gets us right up close and personal with.
It is an apt moment to stage the play, as the forward notes, when Thatcher’s death has sparked renewed interest in these times. Brixton’s riots sparked off following the alleged failure of police to help a black victim, an echo with the start of London’s racial tension fuelled 2011 riots. But although there is excitement and interest in the headlines being created right outside the dilettantes’ window — car sirens go off as they settle in for cocktails and karaoke — most of the play is concerned with their petty squabbles. We’re not quite sure what we get out of it. Viv says she’s been given ‘freedom to rot’ with handouts from her parents. Privileges have made them no better than the sponges living off State benefits that Thatcher so despised, but possibly didn’t imagine they’d be her fellow alumni.
But it’s hard to care for this self-important, selfish group’s problem. Although there are solid performances, the rich middle class characters seem to be identical — powerful, unembarrassed and acid tongued. Tone, a tough-talking east-ender journalist, and Jewish lawyer Jane are the only different ones as the outsiders, easy targets for their intolerant flatmates. But Margaret Clunie’s Annie is hard not to find funny. Like Maureen Lipman’s Trish in Educating Rita, she is all theatricality and mock seriousness with some great put downs. Isabella Laughland veers on the sadistic and despotic as Viv and Jesse Fox’s Rusty is endearingly little boy lost.
We quite wished our post-student days looked like this, as they seemed to be having a ball, with all the drinking and not bothering to look for work. Although this can be infectious, it didn’t live up to its promise of offering a window on this interesting and relevant moment in London in the 1980s.
Hard Feelings is at The Finborough Theatre until 6 July. Tickets £14 (£10 Concessions)
Londonist saw the play on a complimentary press pass