Emily and Alastair 

Emily Bowker as Emily and Alastair Whaltley as Oliver. Pictures: Manuel Harlan


Lichfield Garrick


There’s something very familiar about the format of Invincible by Torben Betts. It’s a formula that has its roots in older writing such as Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

It’s built around the juxtaposition of people with very different ideals and personal agendas who through some kind of social event are thrown together.

What results is an examination, by comparison, of how who we are, our interactions, expectations, relationships and the social standing that shape the courses of our lives.

In Invincible we have two couples. One a London pair Oliver (Alastair Whatley) and Emily (Emily Bowker) who relocate to a Northern town, we’re not sure where. They invite the neighbours Alan (Graeme Brooks) and Dawn (Elizabeth Boag) both born and bred in the area, over for a meet and greet evening.

In the London corner, Emily is an all anti-government feminist, with lofty ideals of socialist living and communes, constantly pent up and bickering with her husband. Her husband Oliver is an intelligent but awkward man who reduces her theories of the grip of the banks and politician’s on our lives, down to his live and let live easy going attitude.

In the Northern corner, their neighbours are their total opposites. Alan is a beer swilling overweight England football supporter, gregarious and overbearing in every way possible but still likable. Dawn however is his unlikely partner shapely and glamorous with an eye for sexual promiscuity in her revealing tight red dress and heels but trapped in a boring life.

The evening and their first meeting is hardly subtle and the characterisation goes beyond reality. Even their first stage entrances which are with dramatic bursts of music and lighting detract from the plot. These were, at times, simply confusing theatrical ideas that cheapened what is some very intelligent writing.


Graeme Brooks as Alan

In the confines of the living room set we get to hear about their lives and opinions. Each has their crosses to bear either with their pasts, futures or the limitations of the personalities and Betts does a fine job of bringing out the irony of each of their relationships and lives.

For whatever reason they all seem to be unhappy with their lot and themselves in some way, but there is a maturity which is missing from the play. It’s facts in the plot, like Emily, the caring mother, suddenly becomes elated at mild mannered Oliver killing the neighbour’s cat; then Alan seems only a little upset to know his wife has had sex with neighbour Oliver, yet leaves contentedly with her later , that stretch the plot’s boundaries.

Whatever difficulties there are in the writing, the quartets of Graeme Brooks, Elizabeth Boag, Alastair Whatley and Emily Bowker in their respective roles work every line for maximum effect. The play shifts from the casual evening meet up into real tragedy and the performances were complex and rich. The personal development of every character is extreme by the end of the play and although you can second guess the ending, the final scene is still highly emotional.  

Like so many of these inter relationship studies you might recognise qualities in all of the characters or even know someone who is exactly like them. The comedy mostly comes from ridiculing the North South divide and the stereotypes we imagine might represent them.

However there is still a great deal of clever observation and if you can avoid the theatrics that overshadow some strong themes and focus on the great individual performances then Invincible has a lot to offer. To 25-03-17

Jeff Grant


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