You Write The Reviews: The Seventeenth Valentine, White Bear Theatre, London

At a small fringe theatre in south London, I saw a gem of a play this week from a writer who surely has a great future ahead of him. Russell Mardell's The Seventeenth Valentine is set in Alan Ayckbourn territory. Two married couples who are poles apart are thrown together in unusual circumstances, and old wounds slowly ripple to the surface. Yes, this may sound familiar, but in Mardell's writing, themes are interwoven and mood carefully orchestrated as each spark flies and another layer is carefully peeled away.

It is billed as a "bittersweet comedy", and it is very funny – I haven't laughed out so loud in a theatre for a long time. But it also touches raw nerves, and it's impossible to watch without a sentence or an action reminding you of someone you know – perhaps even yourself.

A middle-aged man, set in his ways, is trying to write the book that is supposed to be in everyone. His younger wife wants another, better life, and communication is virtually nonexistent except when they argue. Into this fiery cauldron walk a husband and wife who, through genealogy, have discovered that they are related to the other couple. Shockwaves start to flow and skeletons fall out of several cupboards.

The small ensemble is brilliantly cast. Nicholas Lumley, in the pivotal role of the aspiring writer, turns in a virtuoso Basil Fawlty-like performance as he rants and raves at everyone, yet crumples into pathos when sad truths begin to seep out. He holds the attention magnificently, and even when he is not speaking, his face tells many a story.

David Corden as the loud, uncouth cockney – the complete antithesis of Nicholas Lumley's character – gives an excellent comic performance full of coarseness and ignorance – the perfect sandpaper to rub against the other's carefully preserved and precious personality.

The two wives are beautifully played by Kerry Stockwell and Julia Savill. Stockwell is strong and forceful, yet yearns for a better life; Savill is all fuss and hot air. They complement the male characters perfectly. But it is Mardell's script that is the star. The dialogue crackles, the plot is skilfully crafted and the characters are completely authentic and believable.

This play calls out to be staged in front of a larger audience. Theatres at the moment seem to be full of revivals or works that are set to a tried-and-trusted formula; while there may be similarities to Ayckbourn's ouevre here, Mardell is a unique talent.

To 17 Feb (020-7793 9193)

Arthur Rowland, teacher, Wiltshire

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
By Seuss! ‘What Pet Shall I Get?’ hits the bookshops this week
Books
Arts and Entertainment
The mushroom cloud over Hiroshima after Enola Gray and her crew dropped the bomb
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Elliott outside his stationery store that houses a Post Office
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Film review Tom Cruise, 50, is still like a puppy in this relentless action soap opera

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'