I spend a lot of time on trains, commuting home, late at night, post theatre. And you meet all sorts.
It’a Sod’s law that you’ll find yourself trapped with the nutter, or the loud drunk, or, worse, the vomit-stained bon viveur who thinks he’s god’s gift – and you do all you can to maintain that perfectly good British characteristic of remaining aloof, usually by burying yourself in a book (or vile tablet porn like my fellow traveller the other night).
The worst case scenario is if you’re a long haul commuter, stuck, for example, on the Great Western for the five-plus hours from London to Cornwall, with the train’s only bore or verbally incontinent passenger.
Actor, and now writer, Tom Ward-Thomas, has obviously enjoyed far more amiable train journeys.
His debut play, One of Those, opened tonight at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre and, I don’t know if any of it is autobiographical, but he shows great flair in writing believable, realistic characters.
This is a first class comedy of coincidence, set in the claustrophobia of a train carriage, about a series of brief encounters between two couples and a wronged wife.
Relationships come off the rails, get shunted into the sidings, and get a return ticket in this beautifully-paced and charming, story, tightly directed by Amy Ewbank.
We first meet strangers James (Tom Ward-Thomas) and Laura (Amy Newton). They’re sitting opposite each other on the London to Cornwall train (though the upholstery, I recognise, comes courtesy of London Midland). She is struggling to complete a crossword while he has a nose in a book.
“How do you spell bureaucracy?” she asks as an opening gambit. What follows is an awkward, halting conversation that veers from curiosity and polite interest to a series of insults and slights.
By the end of the journey there’s a glimmer of hope that they may see each other again – or maybe not.
Both have an awful lot of baggage (and not the carry-on luggage type). She’s in a relationship with a much older married family man while former public schoolboy, James, is already a dad at 24 and struggling to establish a career in music.
In another carriage lawyer Philip is taking his mistress Davina to Cornwall for a dirty weekend. It’s always going to be a fraught outing as his family home is in the town and they’re putting up in a B&B.
What he didn’t bank on was running into his sculptor wife, Alice, on the train.
It’s a classic confrontation. Panicked husband (Martin Bell on top form as a man in the maelstrom of a mid-life crisis) tries to squirm out of the situation but he’s caught like a rat in a trap. We luxuriate in his discomfort.
It doesn’t take long for the penny to drop and a stunned Alice (splendidly played by Louise Bangay) goes on the attack. Poor Philip has nowhere to run while divorcee Davina (Emma Kelly) momentarily bonds with the shell-shocked wife over sculpture.
Eventually the penny drops with the audience too as we realise that these five strangers have more in common with each other than they think.
I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me a ridiculously long time to experience that light-bulb moment.
Philip is a cliché, a man tired with the commute from Cornwall to work in London (I don’t envy him that) who dives into a completely unsuitable relationship with a client while his wife works from home and looks after the family.
He’s misunderstood, feels ignored and unappreciated (doesn’t your heart bleed for him?) while Alice, feeling similar, just gets on with life. Someone pulled the communication cord on their relationship a long time ago.
One of Those is a beautifully played out story that keeps your attention throughout. It’s a bit sentimental and a tad old fashioned but all the better for it.
Laura and James, for all the ups and downs in their private lives, are a lovely – if unlikely – couple while it’s clear that Philip and Alice have reached a crossroads in their lives. Can their marriage survive or has it really hit the buffers?
One of Those plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre until February 13.
One of Those
Tom Ward-Thomas’ debut play, One of Those, is a warm, heartfelt comedy, set on board a train, about a family’s struggle to keep their relationships from hitting the buffers. It makes commuting seem almost bearable.