|The most polarising show of the week: The Village Bike (Royal Court)
The show was both sold out and extended before it opened, on the combined reputations of the Royal Court, young playwright Penelope Skinner, and actress Romola Garai; possibly also on the erotic tone it promises, of which more shortly. We spotlight it here because the show received three glowing ones and four cutting reviews; as such, it provides a bit of an (ahem) acid test as to how much you might agree with a particular reviewer.
The plot is simple; Garai’s pregnant protagonist wants sex, but her husband is too limply focused on being the world’s most sensitive birthing partner to realise his wife is still the same carnal creature she was a few months ago. Thus she takes up with a variety of men in the village to which they’ve just moved.
All reviewers praise Garai’s strong performance, as well as Joe Hill-Gibbins’s clever direction, so the difference all comes down to each reviewer’s opinion of the script. Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard said the play “brilliantly captures what few dramas even bother to deal with: that liminal time in a woman’s life when she stands poised between two very different states of being”, while Sarah Hemming of the FT lauded it as “a daring play about sex and the confusing impact of pornography on intimacy” that “revels in erotic cliches.” Sam Marlowe of the Times rather breathlessly pronounced it “a hurtling ride through gender politics, sexual powerplay and the highs and hazards of desire”, and later “a wickedly wise, furiously funny play that freewheels among the mess and indignities behind the many myths about sex”, calling its humour “impishly astute” and its intelligence “impeccable.”
However, other reviewers wanted more bite. Michael Billington at the Guardian said that while the play “is both observant and funny, it has a strangely conventional core”, and that Skinner’s “vague cop-out” on what happens when the headiness wears off gives you “a good night out without quite having the courage of its initial convictions.” Michael Coveney of What’s On Stage also expected the play to eventually pick a direction and go with it; “farce, for instance, or a really dark tragedy with some grim, chaotic consequences.” Regrettably, “Skinner pulls back from any hard decision on this”, resulting in “a steep loss of intensity even as the situation gathers”. Paul Taylor of The Independent breaks a remarkable string of eight consecutive 4-star reviews to note his disappointment that “the play, which seemed to promise that it would unsettle conventions, turns into a pretty standard cautionary tale.”
(EES aside: astute readers who note that there seems to be some correlation between a reviewer’s attitude towards a sexually charged wife with a wandering eye and that reviewer’s gender will receive extra credit.)
Runs to 30 July
See the full list of reviews at