Told in real-time, A Partnership is a sensitively written 60 minute two-hander that takes us into the bowels of a dysfunctional gay relationship.
Ally (Ben Hadfield) is turning 30 in an hour. He is being a tad dramatic about it, as if the world as he knows it is about to end. To add to the drama, Ally’s 30-something partner of 5 years Zach (Rory Thomas-Howes), has punched one of Ally’s work colleagues and is being evasive about why.
Playwright Rory Thomas-Howes is not afraid to present characters who are not obviously likeable. At first I felt sympathy for the evasive Zach, in the face of Ally’s over-the-top response to the events of the evening. The opening scene presents Ally as self-centred and attention seeking, while Zach comes across as quiet and long suffering, frustrated by his partners dramatics and scoffing at his claims of bi-sexuality. Suffice it to say, over the course of the hour my allegiance shifts.
This is a play about a love between two men, the compromises people make to sustain a long-term relationship and the corrosiveness of internalised homophobia. How can a relationship survive if your partner hates themselves and the community they belong to? In such a situation, can love ever be enough?
While there is humour within the production, this is not a lighthearted or optimistic play. It paints an uncompromising picture of an unravelling toxic relationship. There are moments of genuine discomfort for the audience, as the unhealthy dynamic between these two men can feel all too real. The discord is made all the more powerful when it contrasts with brief flashes of hope and harmony.
It is a well-balanced play with the character development and plot revelations strategically placed throughout the piece, ensuring that the dramatic tension never lags and that we remain fully absorbed in the unfolding story.
Ben Hadfield’s portrayal of Ally is nuanced and energetic. He captures his youthful naivety, exuberance and need to be loved. While Rory Thomas-Howes convincingly balances Zach’s apparent detachment with snaps of rage. These are two strong performances that are well worth experiencing.
A Partnership runs at Theatre 503 until Saturday 5th October. I’d recommend it to those who enjoy thought-provoking new writing and LGBTQ+ stories. With a 60 minute running time there is plenty of time afterwards to sit down with a friend and digest the show over a gin or two. I had to run for a bus (no gin for me), but found myself having a lovely chat about the play with a fellow audience member on the no 49. This is a play that definitely sparks conversation, even with people you’ve only just met. I love it when theatre does that.