Over the weekend I went to see Invincble at the Orange Tree in Richmond, a new play by Torben Betts. Its the kind of theatre I prefer: intimiate scenes in-the-round, teasing apart something relevant about contemporary life.
This one centres on an upper middle-class couple, Oliver and Emily, with a tragedy in their past and an warped sense of social responsibility. They have chosen to live among ‘ordinary’ people in the North of England. Rather than live in a middle-class ghetto and contribute to the extortionate London housing bubble, they profess a desire to improve this community. Emily plans to become a school governor and says she is setting up an Amnesty group and an artists’ collective.
But its all a facade. Their neighbour Alan has a cat, which they hate and eventually murder. Thry cringe at Alan’s love of beer and football. They are at first patronising, and then incredibly snide about his attempts to paint. Quickly, they alienate themselves from the community they hoped to improve.
The couple eventually come into an inheritance, and immediately make the selfish choice to leave. Even Emily, the righteous, organic fair trade Amnesty arts collective school governor daughter of Quakers, needs barely any persuasion to abandon her communitarian principles and move to Highgate, where the schools are better. Alan and his wife Dawn are abandoned to their preordained fate: spiralling credit card debt, monotony at work. For their son in the army, death awaits on the streets of Kabul.
The question Torben Bett’s puts to the audience is whether we would do any different. Probably not. What parent would choose to risk their kids’ education on a failing school. What mother would approve of her son being sent to die in Afghanistan? Like the rest of us, neither Alan or Emily are inclined to abandon their culture or their comfort for an ideal that the political system will not support. Ultimately, its an argument for socialism—some things we support in principle we’re just too selfish (or perhaps, self-interested) to do in practice, so we need the collective power of the state to create a better environment for us.