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Tuesday 11th November 2008
Theatre Review | LUCKY SEVEN | Hampstead Theatre

Michael Apted’s 1964 documentary Seven Up was quietly revolutionary in its way. Fourteen carefully selected seven-year-olds from working, middle and upper class backgrounds were asked to talk about their aspirations and then reunited at seven-year intervals throughout their lives. The results reflected the way in which class predetermines destiny (those from the upper classes tended to achieve, whereas those from underprivileged backgrounds rarely fulfilled their early promise), as well as charting the colossal social change that took place in the latter half of the last century.

Of course, it’s impossible to observe a subject without changing it, and this is the focus of Alexis Zegerman’s play. In her version, only three subjects take part, one for each social stratum. Alan (David Kennedy) is the working class representative – undereducated yet ambitious, crudely-spoken and motivated by money. He uses the programme to jump-start his career, which peaks sometime in the mid-eighties, then spirals in the ‘90s.

Catherine (Susannah Harker) is Alan’s antithesis. She does her best to go against the grain in her teens, donning Sex Pistols t-shirts and swearing every other word, but she never fools Alan, who knows a posh girl when he sees one.

While the sentiment itself is probably true – we all turn into our parents as the years roll on – Catherine is the least believable of Zegerman’s characters. Harker is miscast in the role, and hams up the teenage righteousness to an irritating degree. She makes an unconvincing punk and is much better suited to the adult incarnation, in which she conjures up the spirit of Nigella Lawson.

Tom – the underachieving academic – ought to be the most interesting character. He is the epitome of middle-class inertia, unable to reach his potential and painfully aware of his own failings. The programme has been ‘like an albatross’ for him, a weight which he has carried throughout his adult life.

And yet because Zegerman never really scratches the surface of these issues, the play becomes little more than a tired coming-of-age. Tom’s depression hangs like dull, impenetrable fog, until he chances upon an entrepreneur half his age and pens a series of self-help books. Catherine drifts through life as only the privileged can, until one of her sons suffers a fatal accident. Neither of these revelations is particularly satisfactory, and Tom’s mental u-turn feels like a hasty tack-on.

The play’s structure doesn’t help. The action jumps between decades, with no coherent thread established until the final segment. It is difficult to appreciate the scale of Catherine’s tragedy because there is no build-up to it. Similarly, the love story between Catherine and Tom is disjointed and therefore never has a chance to develop organically.

The script itself is peppered with wit, and the second half significantly improves on the first. As a light comedy it almost works, but as a serious drama it lacks substance.

© Harriet Davis 2008

  • Lucky Seven is at Hampstead Theatre until 22 November 2008.

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