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Delivery

by on 12 July 2019

Regimented

Delivery

by Andy Walker

Barnes Fringe Festival, OSO Arts Centre, 11 July 2019

A review by Matthew Grierson

If many people’s experience of delivery is a long wait in for a pizza, then it’s no surprise that Delivery is such a pacey production – it clearly wants to avoid having to give us the free garlic beard.

The speed with which Andy Walker’s script cuts from one scene to the next as expectant father Joe (Alex Walton) recounts his life story is fitting given the character’s former life as a squaddie, and the production is so well drilled that you’d think Lesley Manning were more sergeant major than director. It’s doubly impressive given that only last week this was a rehearsed reading: not only dialogue but action and lightning move so swiftly and effortlessly tonight that I couldn’t help being caught up in it.

Walton remains present onstage throughout and delivers a nuanced performance that conveys Joe’s self-doubt, rage, fear and charm, slipping seamlessly between narrator and participant in his own story. The comic self-deprecation he deploys to woo wife Angela is just as effective and affecting as the rawness of his terror when deployed on active service.

Lizzie Aaryn-Stanton is likewise engaging as primary school teacher Angela. She’s a humane and compassionate counterpoint to Joe’s troubled masculinity, no more so than when her journey to assembly with her class is juxtaposed with Joe weeping over the corpse of a fallen comrade in the foreground. Yet despite this contrast there is still a genuine, touching chemistry between them, as seen in their first meeting at a football match – never has talk of the offside trap been more sexually charged.

If anything, Aaryn-Stanton is under-served by a show whose focus is very much on masculine identity. Certainly Walker’s script is interested in exploring the contradictions and frailties of masculinity that are intensified by military experience, and is justly angry about the treatment of former servicepeople. Nevertheless, these concerns are worked out of a stock of blokey tropes including football, beer and nightclubs that seem as generic as the unnamed blue and white team that Joe and Angela support, tropes that especially in the first half are played for laughs.

This makes Joe’s deployment to the Falklands a sudden and specific about-turn. The show benefits from the detail and context this gives, but nothing so far had suggested it was set in any time other than the present, or warned that it would be venturing beyond wry comedy. Even on the battlefield the jokey asides continue, making Delivery feel like a lighter piece than it should be by rights.

To earn our full engagement with Joe’s plight, the show could create more sense of jeopardy around his mental state. As it is, he kills an officer in one scene and is acquitted in the next; similarly, an implausible war crime committed by his chaplain is mentioned briefly and then not referred to again. Although the consequences of both play out later, the narrative of redemption is so far advanced by this stage that it’s clear the play is hastening towards a happy ending – handed his baby daughter, Joe quickly abandons thoughts of suicide. Taking the time to dwell on the trauma of war could have given more opportunity for legitimate discomfort and deepened our sympathy with Joe’s situation.

DeliveryPromo

All the same, the momentum prevents us from lingering too long on these missed chances. In this the play is ably served not only by the energy of the two leads but also Gordon Peaston and Louis Davison, who each take on an impressive array of supporting characters. Peaston begins as a succession of stock authority figures – judge, teacher, sergeant major – enlivening them beyond sitcom stereotypes, before turning in a sensitive and insightful portrayal of the padre from whom Joe seeks support. Just as versatile, Davison offers us a posh officer and a light-fingered youth as comic turns, as well as the more sobering vision of an Argentine prisoner whose drowning drives Joe to murder.

Between them, Peaston and Davison also bring to life a veritable bestiary of hallucinatory animals, highlights being Peaston’s camp slug, Davison’s philosophic sheep and a laconic fruit fly. The switches of mood and manner in each case are total and convincing, set off by the simple addition of headgear or other costume flourishes.

That it’s possible to conceive of a show that deals with PTSD and gay gastropods and bring it to a happy ending without it coming across as silly or trite is a function of Walker’s well-crafted script. Although it focuses more than it might on maintaining momentum, it attends to the detail in dialogue that fleshes out characters as well as demonstrating an admirable command of plot. In this much, Delivery delivers.

Matthew Grierson
July 2019

Photography courtesy of OSO Arts Centre

From → Drama, Fringe, Reviews

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