Review: A Strange Romance and Trivial Dispute, by Ian Dixon Potter (Golden Age Theatre Co.), The White Bear Theatre, Kennington
First the good news. Both protagonists of these two extended monologues are not only superbly well-performed, they are written as full, breathing characters with no sense that they are simply vehicles for an idea or agenda.
Thomas Everett’s Peter tells the story of his strange romance with the enigmatically androgynous Blue with an infectious enthusiasm for life, love and sci-fi novels. Every time Everett sails close to the wind of being gratingly positive, he somehow manages to swiftly steer back into our affections with a self-deprecating grin.
He is different in every way from Neil Summerville’s Trevor, besides harbouring a nerdy passion for motoring. The self-made South London millionaire’s brand of un-PC humour would be anathema to the average audience member, but Ian Dixon Potter’s writing combined with Summerville’s observant portrayal make him totally recognisable, even relatable to the vast majority of people beyond a few professions and postcodes.
The trivial dispute of the title is a four-year simmering resentment that bubbles into regretful acrimony; to extend the metaphor, if the ignition is the referendum result of 2016, the lockdown of 2020 is the lid causing the boil-over. Values-based divisions that have been politely diffused down at the pub spread turmoil on a car enthusiasts’ Facebook group — not helped, in group admin Trevor’s seasoned opinion, by the refusal of his arch-rival — ‘Remoaner’ academic Ewan — to use emojis. Trivial Dispute in part then is a clever meditation on the pervasive role of social media and the particular one of lockdown in inflaming political tensions.
There is also reflection on how objects take on totemic tribal meaning beyond their actual purposes; Trevor’s fondness for British cars — the Triumph Stag especially — juxtaposed with Ewan’s predilection for Citroens and Renaults is a crystal-clear instance.
This is where I begin to wring my hands just a little, however. It’s true that Trevor is no caricature — which is justly picked up in the reviews — but the dead hand of stereotype is still a danger with this stuff, and it does indeed come knocking. I have no trouble believing that a real-life Trevor would watch and enjoy Mrs Brown’s Boys, but would it really be his favourite TV show? Perhaps, though it is another thing to imagine he would be dim enough to steal the name of one of its lead actors for use as one of his online personas in his cyberwar with Ewan.
Maybe that exposes the limits of my own imagination. Trevor is a clearly a well-thought-out character and his story manages the difficult straddling act of being both banally realistic and joltingly surprising.
I leave the auditorium thinking that here is an opportunity missed, however. Putting the working-class Tory Brexiteer in the spotlight is in many ways refreshing, but still feels rather like one half of the country putting the other on trial. We do hear of less obsessive Leavers — Ewan’s fellow Scot, Malcolm — and Ewan’s behaviour isn’t beyond reproach, which rounds out the picture somewhat, but we are left with the impression (as so often) that there is only one guilty party.
Sadly I missed another of Dixon Potter’s ‘Tales from the Golden Age’, The New Normal, set in a dystopian 2024 where the UK’s political cleavages have been wrenched further apart. Perhaps that offered something a little more balanced.
For now, I must look elsewhere for storytelling that gives Britain’s recent history both narrative drive and due nuance. Or maybe, instead of carping, I need to do it myself.