‘The Engagement’ is a dark tale based on a true story about the destructive power of alcoholism. Playwright James Alexander Allen worked with Wayne Liversidge to bring his experiences to life. Following a successful run in Brighton in 2018, this is ‘The Engagement’s London premiere.
Allen is not afraid to lean into the darkness behind the story, but despite the bleak subject matter has succeeded in creating an engaging play. Director Laura Dorn makes very smart directing decisions that open up the play to the audience, with clever staging pulling us into the action. This dynamism is important in breaking down barriers between us and the story we are watching unfold. She also ensures that we observe more than is necessarily spelled out in the dialogue, bringing to life Gerri’s secret drinking in a way that is clear to us, but obscured to her boyfriend John.
The play centres around Lene Kqiku’s Gerri, she provides the emotional core of the play and the source of the destruction. Kqiku brings to life Gerri’s volatile and evasive personality with a passionate conviction. She is not afraid to show just how unlikeable her alcoholism makes her. She is single-minded and manipulative one moment, yet vulnerable and confused another, and Kqiku beautifully inhabits this complex and difficult character.
Jonathan Parr is earnest and likeable as John, as we follow his burgeoning relationship with Gerri, starting with their first date, through his growing realisation that something is very wrong. Velenzia Spearpoint is Gerri’s long-suffering step-sister Luanne, who is far too familiar with Gerri’s alcoholism. Luanne is also a nurse, finding relief in the patients she can actually help, and Spearpoint really captures her reassuring pragmatism. She is also an important character in terms of explaining the history of Gerri’s alcoholism, and the health dangers that come with it. ‘The Engagement’ made it painfully clear to me just how little we truly understand the health risks associated with alcohol addiction.
‘The Engagement’ shines a cold, harsh light on just how devastating alcoholism can be for both the addict and their loved ones. While it does not make for comfortable viewing, this is an absorbing production which educates about this far too prevalent issue through the lens of a deeply personal true story.
‘The Engagement’ runs at the Bread and Roses until 30th November. There are post-show discussions scheduled for each performance. The final two discussions are with Allen and Liversidge (29th) and recovering alcoholic Joshua Spearpoint (30th).