Theatre review: Money Womb, Theatre503

Jon Cottrell as Peter Finch and Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop in Velvet Trumpet's Money Womb

Jon Cottrell as Peter Finch and Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop in Velvet Trumpet’s Money Womb

A darkly comic tale of dreams, failure, love and London

Full marks to the Velvet Trumpet, a small theatre company with big ambitions, who aren’t afraid to be inventive and push against the squeeze on funding and challenge the social status quo that seems to have theatre by its vice like, privileged grip.

After a string of successes, this small production company is staking its claim as “London’s finest comedy theatre company” with its original works all created, directed and performed by this band of south Londoners.

Velvet Trumpet’s latest production is Money Womb, the debut play by “man-in-crisis” Nick Smith playing at Battersea’s Theatre503. This story of one young East Midland’s boy with big dreams and small pockets, is one that many of us can relate to – maybe not the actual content which is gritty and bleak – but certainly the broad outline.

Played with force by Jon Cottrell, Peter Finch leaves his Midlands town behind to search out a future in London, persuading his girlfriend, Hannah Jessop, to follow him. It’s an age old tale, a modern day Dick Whittington, but far from finding the streets paved with gold, Peter discovers a city where the pavements are awash with powder and deceit.

Smith’s smart two-hander, which largely sees Cottrell as Peter directing bitter monologues at the audience as his dreams crumble along with his relationship, capture a London that is bigger than the people who live here. A city that will swallow you if you don’t learn to swim with, rather than against, its force. Peter becomes an increasingly desperate figure as he prowls the stage, snarling at his patient girlfriend and bemoaning his squalid east end flat and lowly status. Are we meant to sympathise with him? Understand him? Maybe not, but there is pathos in the character and Cottrell’s performance.

Asha Reid as Hannah Jessop (who also doubles up as a particularly hard-nosed benefits officer) was a softly spoken counter to Peter’s aggressiveness and I thought she captured the vulnerability and innocence of her character beautifully. Her lovely performance was helped by Hannah being a well-drawn character, a lower-middle class female who wasn’t being judged for her lack of ambition or defined by her sexuality. She was quietly strong-willed without any of the drama that can tip a female character into ‘mad cow’ territory so beloved of many male playwrights.

Perhaps Money Womb runs on a little too long (an interval could have worked) and the over reliance of cocaine as a metaphor for London’s dark heart could have been side-stepped for something more original, but this is a thought-provoking play from a theatre company committed to finding a contemporary voice in London.

Money Womb | Theatre503, Battersea | Until 8 August 2015

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