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Riotously funny' play Invincible comes to Cambridge Arts Theatre

L-R Emily Bowker as Emily, Graeme Brookes as Alan, Elizabeth Boag as Dawn and Alistair Whatley as Oliver in a production of Invincible
L-R Emily Bowker as Emily, Graeme Brookes as Alan, Elizabeth Boag as Dawn and Alistair Whatley as Oliver in a production of Invincible

Written by Torben Betts, one of the most exciting playwrights to emerge since Alan Ayckbourn, Invincible starts its Cambridge run tonight (Wednesday) at the Cambridge Arts Theatre.

Elizabeth Boag as Dawn and Alastair Whatley as Oliver in Invincible
Elizabeth Boag as Dawn and Alastair Whatley as Oliver in Invincible

The story, written in 2013 and first performed in 2014, focuses on young couple Emily and Oliver who, with the recession biting hard, decide to shift their middle class London lifestyle into a small town in the north of England.

One night they invite their next door neighbours, Dawn and Alan, into their home and, over the course of a disastrous evening of olives, anchovies, Karl Marx and abstract art, class and culture collide and the consequences are as tragic as they are hilarious.

Oliver is played by Alastair Whatley, who is also the artistic director of the Original Theatre Company (formed in 2004) which is producing the play.

“We opened the first touring revival of the play in Bury St Edmunds and toured last year from March until early June,” he said.

“It surprised us all how well it did because it’s a title that people don’t know by a writer that sadly not enough people know – and it didn’t have any famous people in it.

“Theatres have clamoured for us to take it back out and that’s what we’re doing.”

The UK tour comes to an end in Newcastle-Under-Lyme on April 15. Then, from June 1 to July 2, Invincible will go to New York as part of the 13th annual Brits Off Broadway festival.

Expanding on the story, Whatley added: “The play features a couple from the south, Oliver, who I play, and Emily, his wife, who move up north to save money. They invite the neighbours round and you have then a dynamite, socially-engineered sitcom – and it’s the funniest play I’ve ever been in.”

Referring specifically to Brexit, Whatley continued: “But very quickly it turns into a state-of-the-nation play. It’s set it 2012 so at the peak, I suppose, of Olympic fever, and it’s the moment before the fall, if you like, where everything started going a bit wrong.

“Torben doesn’t side with either part. Generally, the message of the play is that we can all benefit from speaking and listening to each other a little bit more.

“Ultimately, take away the accents and the clothing and we’re all just people, and the polarisation that we’re experiencing at the moment is hopefully just a phase that can be tackled with basic human empathy.”

Asked about his character, Whatley replied: “Oliver is a husband to Emily and the father of two small children. He’s a civil servant and comes from a public school background.

“He has been made redundant and has quite a good pay package – not a brilliant one.

“He’s New Labour and Emily is Corbyn Labour, if you like, and that provokes huge passionate disagreements between them.

“He’s very unhappy at the start of the play and feels like a fish out of water in this strange new world of the north of England – we don’t specify where.

“He’s lost, unhappily married and struggling with a very English experience.”

How does Karl Marx come into it? “Emily is what you might call a champagne socialist who wants to enjoy a deep and meaningful conversation.

“So to prompt this, she puts a Karl Marx book as a coffee table book which she then refers to in an attempt to try and instigate interesting dialogue.”

Whatley concluded: “Audiences are going to laugh a lot – we’ve never heard such laughter.

“But they’ll be surprised by the end by the emotional journey they’ve been on. It’s a remarkable bit of writing that surprises at every turn – there are so many twists in the plot.”

Invincible has an age guidance of 12 and over. Performances are Wednesday–Saturday, 7.45pm and Saturday, 2.30pm: Tickets £18/£23/£28/£33 Tickets for the Thursday 2.30pm performance are £18/£23/£28. All prices include a £3 per-ticket booking fee.

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