Kerbs review – tender comedy about the road to romance | Theatre


Online, Lucy and David are slick and witty. Meeting on an app called Tingle Dating, they are forthright and fun. Their texts are heavy on innuendo, every winky face matched by an aubergine emoji. They are witty and sexually assured.

In real life, things are more awkward in Michael Southan’s play. A fall from her wheelchair after colliding with a kerb lands Lucy in hospital. A romantic dinner loses its lustre when the wine spills over. And you are unlikely ever to see a sex scene as fumbling and flat as their first night away in a caravan in Minehead.

Their swaggering online personas would never admit to such vulnerabilities. Nor would they acknowledge the messy business of human relationships.

For a good chunk of this 90-minute romcom, the two can’t help but offend each other. As Lucy, Maya Coates irritates Jack Hunter’s David by claiming an independence she doesn’t have. He winds her up with a retaliatory lie about a busy social life. Before they can fall for each other, they have to find faith in themselves.

Jack Hunter as David and Maya Coates as Lucy in Kerbs by Michael Southan
Finale fireworks … Jack Hunter as David and Maya Coates as Lucy in Kerbs by Michael Southan. Photograph: Patrick Baldwin

And that’s not easy when so much stands in their way. The kerbs of the title are also the curbs on their freedom. It is more than bad pavement design that poses an obstacle to their self-fulfilment. As people with disabilities, it is also their reliance on others.

Lucy is 24 but her relationship with her mother (Rekha John-Cheriyan) has the cantankerous edge of someone 10 years younger. She is infantilised by her primary carer even as she depends on her. The relationship is a curb on her social life, her privacy and her sexual expression.

Staged by Nickie Miles-Wildin for Graeae, the Belgrade theatre and Coventry UK City of Culture 2021, the show has rough edges: it is prone to abrupt changes in mood and narrative digressions and, although the flat-screen set by Amanda Mascarenhas is neat and adaptable, there is no such economy in the number of props the cast are burdened with.

But Southan also writes with tenderness, while Coates and Hunter earn their finale fireworks as they go charmingly from emotionally fragile to sexually fulfilled.

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