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IVY & JOAN – Jermyn Street Theatre, London.

Ivy Joan Jermyn StreetAs time takes its purposeful march, the years rack up their solemn count. If we stick to the journey for long enough, we hope that the idiom ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ doesn’t ring true in relation to any marriage or in any long-standing professional servitude.

The cosy confines of the Jermyn Street Theatre in the West End plays host to James Hogan’s Ivy & Joan; a pair of intimate and somewhat sombre plays that tackle the topic of advancing years and loneliness. With one half focusing on the plight of Ivy, the second half takes audiences into the world of Joan. The women are at once very different from one another, yet the Venn diagram of emotional turmoil points towards shared themes of isolation. Ivy is a prisoner of her own resentment and bitter recriminations; Joan is a prisoner within a marriage and an illness that offers little in the way of hope.

The simple and austere staging adds a cool temperature for Ivy’s portion of the evening. Set in the staff lounge of a hotel, she is spending the last moments of her forty-year service at the premises. She has resentments in abundance, plenty of foes and very few friends. She waits for the return of an old lover. For Ivy, it would appear that the years have made her pull her drawbridge up; and her protective padding is spiky and barbed quibbles and complaints. She is not a sympathetic character, but she is deserving of sympathy, for life’s ravages have left a bitter dent.

Joan is an amateur painter, fresh from an inspiring trip to Venice. Her pedantic husband offers little in the way of congenial reassurance. He is more at home pointing out their differences, with Joan’s limitations at the forefront. His delivery is quiet, but no less impactful on Joan’s self-esteem. Her well-being is on the slide – that much is hinted at – and it would appear that the relationship is far from blossoming.

For both plays, Lynne Miller and Jack Klaff perform with able grace and poise, there is strong direction and faithful design by Anthony Biggs and Victoria Johnstone, respectively. And yet it is not all smooth sailing.

There is a muted feel to both plays that arguably adds a plausible dash of verisimilitude, but it also leaves much of the dramatic traction stumbling in the lower gears. Both Ivy and Joan’s observations (and also their predicaments) stir wry nods, smiles and empathetic frustration, but they fail to truly grab the audience with any crushing soliloquy or denouement. One is left waiting for the satisfying coda and it never comes. Maybe that is the point. The ordinariness of their lives is a reflection of so many more, but as a night’s investment into characters, you can’t help but be left wanting just a bit more.

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Reviewed 11/01/15

By Greg Wetherall

Until 24th January 2015
Jermyn Street Theatre, London, SW1.

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