The Sarah Mann Company have a strong track record for producing excellent work here in the city, and in particular for comedy with stunning productions of plays like Abigail’s Party and The Lady In The Van. So it was with high expectations that I went along to the excellent Lantern Theatre In Kemp Town to see their latest offering.

Love and Money is a leap forward, Dennis Kelly’s dense script is challenging, not only for the cast but for the audience too. It’s not an easy ride for either, it’s hefty and at times very disturbing. That said there are blissful moments of very dark comedy. And if the content is all of the above then so is the structure, travelling back in time but not using the device of flashback, just running in reverse. Anyone not picking up a programme in advance and not reading the notes might regret not having done so.

The story is about the decent of a young woman through falling in love to falling in love with money and what you can buy – even when you have none. It’s about the all consuming seduction of credit and how once gripped by the ease of borrowing the road down is not only easy but compulsive.

At the centre of the story are married couple David and Jess. At the start David is engaging in a post sales conference dialogue by messenger with Nadine, a sexual conquest from that conference. Nadine is provocative and challenges David to open up. What follows is possibly one of the most heartbreaking and disturbing speeches I have ever experienced and one that Jack Kristiansen delivers with such skill that he turns horror to compassion, a real tour de force.

Peta Taylor and Paul Moriarty then appear as the mother and father, at the graveside of their daughter. It’s a comedic moment to start but it gradually degenerates into a diatribe about greed, envy and excess with humour shifting gear into something so appalling that it is ultimately distressing.

David re-appears this time begging for a job from his ex, the avaricious Val played with alarming reality by Sarah Mann. Val is the bitter and hard manager of a financial company and she is thoroughly savouring every moment of her power as she humiliates David, and Nathan Ariss as Paul is there to bolster every word she spits out.

But it as Duncan, the sleaziest manifestation that I have seen on a stage for some time, that Nathan Ariss really shines in a display of unpleasantness that is so finely crafted that ones flesh starts to creep. And in the role of his victim Debbie, Sarah Mann displays her incredible skills as a character comedian, gum chewing, stupid and gullible she allows him to drive her toward her ultimate degradation.

Throughout the whole is Jess, at first in projection but finally appearing as the sad victim of a world driven by consumerism, damaged, desperate and destroyed by her own decent into debt.

This is a provocative play that is populated by a cast of really unpleasant characters, some have momentarily redeeming features but very few and even the voice of Nadine is tinged with a sense of taking pleasure in the answers to the questions that she asks again and again until her casual sexual conquest breaks down.

What really matters about this production is that it is ambitious, it challenges the company to bring their best to the stage – and they certainly do. There is not a weak link in this production and this cast and it delivers what is all to often missing in fringe productions – serious theatre. Serious theatre seriously well played.

Andrew Kay

The Lantern Theatre

14 May

Rating: ★★★★★

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