Utility Disappoints

Penny Flood sees Utility – at the Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond

Jackie Clune and Robyn Addison

I'm sorry to say that this award winning play by Emily Schwend was a big disappointment. Part of the Orange Tree's season of plays about life as it's lived in non-metropolitan settings, this one's set in Texas and it's about Amber, a woman living from hand to mouth, struggling to keep her family together. It opens as Amber meets her husband from whom she is separated and he persuades her to take him back. He's useless, he knows it, she knows it: workshy, unfaithful, unreliable and a liability but hey, he says he'll help out with the kids.

Matt Sutton

It starts out OK, but after the first 30 minutes it becomes clear that there's no storyline so no tension, no expectations, no character development and ultimately no point. It's only 90 minutes long but the last hour felt like longer, and not in a good way.

In place of a discernible plot there are a series of vignettes showing how hard life is for Amber. We have Amber making sandwiches, Amber fretting about her daughter's birthday party and worrying about what the neighbours will think of her, Amber discussing male infidelity with her mother, Amber struggling with two jobs, Amber yelling at the men for wearing dirty boots in the kitchen, Amber panicking about the dropped birthday cake, Amber sighing and putting on a brave face while reaching for her Marlborough Lights, and so on.

It's a four hander, as well as Amber (Robyn Addison) and her husband Chris (Robert Lonsdale) there are her mother Laura (Jackie Clune) who pops in to help and Jim (Matt Sutton) Chris' brother, who's helping do the house up. They're all terrific, the best thing about the show, and cope very well with a big, clumsy cumbersome set.

To be fair, there are a couple of points in the play which could have been developed to make things more interesting: is Jim in love with Amber and who is the father of her eldest daughter?
But they're left hanging and it drags to its end, and what happens then? Don't get me started!

Penny Flood

images: Helen Murray

June 27, 2018