TENDER
Hampstead Theatre, London NW3
Opened 10 September, 2001

*** Somehow Abi Morgan's play is solid and disappointing at once

Morgan's last two Edinburgh Fringe plays were oblique and adventurous; this portrait of people in search of attachment is more cautious.

The phrase which has been most often used of Tender is "soap opera". Morgan has written seven people of differing ages, classes and lifestyles in a city, whose paths cross and entangle in various ways. Most of the scenes are duologues, none bigger than a quartet. We see casual sex, adultery, suicide, separation, the search for a missing partner all kinds of ways in which one is defined by a single significant relationship.

Morgan brings intelligence and sensitivity to bear upon her subject, but somehw it never quite takes flight. Where her earlier plays Splendour and Tiny Dynamite were structurally adventurous, and gained in impact through seldom making their points overtly, Tender feels as if she is reining in her formal exuberance, trying to compromise with an imagined mainstream, and thereby crippling herself.

Nicola Redmond gives a fine performance as Gloria, whose husband left one morning and never came back; she subsides from edginess into a kind of acceptance. Sean O'Callaghan is deceptively powerful, too, as Nathan, whose glacial artifice conceals a loss of his own. It's a perfectly serviceable evening, but it could have been much more.

Written for divento.com

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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