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Force of Habit

by on 28 March 2023

Rich, Wry and Relevant

Force of Habit

by Roz Wyllie

Kibo Productions, in partnership with Solace Women’s Aid, at the Barons Court Theatre until 1st April

Review by Gill Martin

‘There should be a siren when love starts to leave,’ laments the rueful Martha, ‘but it’s not like that. It’s a daily creep.’  That’s the plaintive line that sums up a love story that ends not with a bang but a whimper.

Kibo Productions opens its first show of the year with Force of Habit, directed by Leo Bacica, a bittersweet romantic comedy, that is rich, wry and relevant.

We, the audience in the very intimate space of a fifty-seat theatre below the bustling Curtain’s Up pub in Baron’s Court, West London, witness the passion and the pangs as two actors break the fourth wall to share their lives.

The agony and ecstasy, the guilt and bliss, disappointment and despair, the longing and loneliness of a long-term partnership that starts with a shared bottle of wine – there’s a lot of wine on stage and not much else in terms of a set – are displayed in minute detail, minute by seventy minutes.

We watch John, 35, married, verging on dull, working in data (played by Michael Hajiantonis) and Martha, 25, single, insecure, executive assistant, (May López) as love sparks and they embark on a new life of togetherness.

They are giddy with instant attraction, lustfully in their first throes of infatuation.  Things are good, but never quite perfect, as the two lovers try their hardest but … … and there are a lot of buts.

It’s like holding up a mirror to a modern day relationship, prescient, painful and very real. It resonated so much with my companion (no, we’re not a couple, we said in reply to May López’s insistent questioning before curtain up – was this an immersive performance?) that she felt as if her own marriage was under scrutiny.

The ‘buts’ begin with pregnancy; twins Marnie and Mollie, unplanned but deliciously anticipated. Then knackering, sleep-sapping and debt-inducing.

John is now the sole breadwinner in a job he loathes, she the stay-at-home mum who envies his overnight stays in the Grimsby Premier Inn where at least he enjoys the luxury of sleep.  Resentment builds on each side.

Both actors deliver polished performances, assured and confident as they strip off the layers of John and Martha’s doomed relationship in a script that’s crisp, insightful and thought-provoking. Funny, too.

Martha says she could have slain a dragon for John in those early, heady days, but now she needs to slay the demon drink.

Whom do we feel more sympathy for?  John, one divorce and a second fifteen year old relationship on the rocks, maybe destined to repeat the same mistakes?  Or Martha, single mother, over-qualified and over-weight?

You’ll be discussing this over a pint in the pub upstairs.  ‘It encapsulates the male weakness of going for the easy way out,’ was one view overheard.

Gill Martin, March 2023

Photography courtesy of Kibo Productions

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