It’s pretty grim out there. Israel’s invading Gaza, England are getting knocked out of the World Cup, and all over the world terrible things are happening to people who all used to be somebody’s baby. Meanwhile, in London, the cells are full, feminists are getting fired, and Tania’s first night as a Naughty Nurse isn’t going well.
Saturday Night by Zoë Simon is an honourable attempt to take on some very big questions about men and women, London, and the world. The play wants to draw connections between global and domestic violence, state-sponsored war and state-sponsored prostitution, but it doesn’t have the intellectual weight or knowledge of the world to bring off this massive narrative challenge. Too many of the characters feel completely unreal, and resort too easily to yelling, mauling the furniture, or mumbling the usual gloomy platitudes. And, as a conclusion, “it’s pretty grim out there” scarcely does justice to the piece’s heavyweight ambitions.
The cast of nine works hard to bring consistency, humanity and humour to an often bitty and occasionally ranty play. Jenni Maitland gives a good turn as aggressively post-feminist Annie, all attitude and assertiveness and defensive short-sightedness, wavering dangerously between knowingness and naiveté. Frank Doody, as her reality TV star boyfriend, delivers some nice lines with deadpan panache. And Debbie Korley is persuasively scary as a streetwise sex-worker, but never drops her guard or gives a hint of what she might have dreamed about before she became worldy-wise Lulu. As the innocent who gets led astray, Elizabeth Cadwallader is courageously gawky and asexual, and her sudden awakening to the reality of her new job is unexpected and shockingly straightforward.
Vicky Jones’ self-conscious, slow-footed production doesn’t do much to mask Saturday Night’s structural weaknesses. The show’s too long, and far too sluggish, and the inevitable pole dancing in the middle is pretty gratuitous. The song at the end is inexplicable and awful, and seriously knocks the play’s pretentions to moral seriousness, as a relentlessly earnest and high-minded ninety minutes descends to wallowing in sentimental slosh. But there are some promising performances here, and a commendable commitment to using theatre to try to talk about the big issues of our time.