True Colours at The Hope Theatre

True Colours

Those of you that read my interview with Paul Stevens, will know that True Colours enjoyed a short 2-night run at the Hope Theatre. I was able to make the final night (on Monday), and it was well worth crossing London for.

True Colours is a comedy, something that is landed quickly and effectively within the opening moments, as we join our two painters on their job site painting in time to the 90’s music blaring from their radio. In just a few seconds we get a very clear sense of where & when we are, as well as the comedic tone of the play.  The audience were laughing before any of the characters had spoken a word.

With his play Paul Stevens unmistakably demonstrates his talent for comedy, but what makes True Colours special is that it is so much more than an hour of laughs. There is a depth to the characters of Ray and Leon that makes this much more than a straight-up comedy. Did we laugh? Yes, But there are also scenes within the play that are extremely poignant. And while we laugh at the inability of these two characters to communicate clearly with each other,  there is a deeper layer of historic tragedy and life-changing opportunities that make this play much more powerful than a just-for-laughs comedy.

The character of Ray is particularly sympathetic (although you can’t help loving Leon for his unrelenting banter), as we learn about the tragedy he has experienced and his attempts to re-engage with life. It is this back-story that leads to an unexpected but welcome change of pace in the latter stages of the play. A slowing down that gives these two characters the space to open up to each other. The comedy leaves room for a poignancy that engages the audience without any sense of emotional manipulation. It feels like a natural extension of the comedy, the sadness behind the clowning around.

Paul Marlon and Jack Harding have great comic timing and a wonderful chemistry as Ray and Leon.  The anger caused by their inability to communicate with each other feels genuine, and there are moments when you really worry for their friendship. You worry because you can’t help but feel invested in it, you want their friendship to survive.

At a time when we need more working class stories, True Colours is a fun and emotionally honest piece that celebrates the friendship between two working class men. True Colours is a comedy with heart, rather than a bleak, gritty view of working class life.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a bit of heart-wrenching grit as much as the next theatre-goer, but you can’t underestimate the ability of comedy to get under your skin and make you care.

While True Colours is a two-hander, we do get a strong sense of some of the other characters that inhabit their world, and I can’t help thinking that we need a Surprised Susan spin-off play. Just throwing it out there.

While it is too late to catch True Colours at the Hope, I think it is fair to hope that this play will have a future life, so look out as it might pop up at a festival or theatre near you.

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