Review - Cost of Living starring Adrian Lester at Hampstead Theatre
The UK premiere of last year's Pulitzer Prize-winning play - premiered at Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2016 and seen Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017 - is the 100th world, European or UK premiere at Hampstead Theatre since Edward Hall began his tenure as artistic director there in 2010.
So it's a numeric milestone - but it also marks a more important cultural one: the play puts disabled lives centre stage - and boldly (though this shouldn't be bold at all) - uses disabled actors to play them. Unlike Hollywood, where able-bodied actors regularly win awards for what's been called "cripping up" - a phrase that immediately signals how wrong it is - theatre is leading a different approach.
Of course, British companies like Graeae do this all the time - and Ramps on the Moon have also taken impressive steps to embrace disabled actors in non-disabled roles. A revival of Oklahoma! on Broadway is about to have Ado Annie played by an actor who uses a wheelchair, as did a revival of The Glass Menagerie for the role of Laurie, also on Broadway, in 2017.
Theatre's welcome embrace of disabled actors and disabled lives deepens our theatrical understanding and connection with the stories it chooses to tell. Martyna Majok's intense domestic drama offers a complex, layered portrait about complicated lives and those who are in need of care and their carers. But as we watch Adrian Lester's Eddie, a 49 year old truck driver trying to care for Katy Sullivan's Ani, his ex-partner who is now confined to a wheelchair after losing her lower limbs in an accident, and Emily Barber's Jess who takes a job as part-time carer to Jack Hunter's John who has cerebral palsy, each character turns out to have more needs they could meet in each other than the obvious ones.
As with Sweat, currently at the Donmar Warehouse, this is a play about the survival of the human spirit in sometimes desolate circumstances; and it is played with immense and dignified humanity by all four actors in Hall's production. It's wonderful to have Adrian Lester back on the London stage, one of our most gifted actors; but it's also a privilege to see Paralympian Katy Sullivan, who originated the role of Ani in the US, reprise her performance here.
Cost of Living is at the Hampstead Theatre until 9th March.
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