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Review: Cost of Living, at Hampstead Theatre

Revelatory performance from Adrian Lester as lonely truck driver attempting to get back with his estranged wife, in play that examines dependency in an uncaring society

08 February, 2019 — By Sipora Levy

Adrian Lester in Cost of Living. Photo: Manuel Harlan

TO mark the 100th premiere in his 10 years as artistic director, Edward Hall has picked this Pulitzer Prize-winning play by the Polish-American writer Martyna Majok, which turns the spotlight on people marginalised by society.

It is a four-hander with two storylines, and significantly, it casts two disabled actors in key roles. In the first we see Eddie, a revelatory performance by Adrian Lester, full of warmth, sadness and desperate loneliness. He is an unemployed and lonely truck driver, attempting to get back with his estranged wife Ani (Katy Sullivan) a paraplegic, due to a road accident. Sullivan, an exceptional actress, with blazing talent, is also a US Paralympian. Ani is living on the poverty line, and is furious about her condition and the circumstances she finds herself in.

In the other parallel story, John (Jack Hunter) is a wealthy and confident PhD student with cerebral palsy, who pays to be cared for by Jess (Emily Barber), a first generation immigrant and struggling Princeton graduate, down on her financial luck. They are four characters bound together by mutual need.

There is deep poignancy in key scenes, where we see Ani and John being bathed by their respective carers, that are both challenging and humbling to watch.

Jack Hunter and Emily Barber in Cost of Living. Photo by Manuel Harlan

The play is not primarily about disability, but rather more about deep loneliness, dependency and what misfortune does to people, in an uncaring society.

All four actors are exceptional and they are well served by a bleak and beautiful frozen landscape set design by Michael Pavelka and a haunting minimalist score by Simon Slater.

The parallel storylines are framed by two effective dramatic devices. There is a long monologue at the beginning by Eddie, sadly desperate to make contact with anyone at all, in a desolate dive of a bar. At the end, the stories collide in a bleak and shocking final scene.

This bold and chilling play, with huge empathy and compassion, epitomises the poet John Donne’s assertion that no man or woman is an island.

It may not be for everyone – it is hardly an entertaining night out, though there are moments of gutsy humour, and some of it is difficult to watch. However, it is beautifully written, acted and staged and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. It should also be mandatory viewing for uncaring politicians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Until March 9
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