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There’s much to enjoy in the Almeida’s latest, despite some questionable tangents

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» Matthew Dunster’s ambitious new play Children’s Children centres on the changing fortunes of two best friends and their families.

TV star Michael (Darrell D’Silva) is the host of Saturday night game show What’s Mine Is Yours, a cheesy loud-shirted entertainer with a framed portrait of Brucie in his living room, and happily married to Louisa (Beth Cordingly).

Drama school pal Gordon (Trevor Fox) always thought he’d be the one to make it big; now he and wife Sally (Sally Rogers) are failed actors, and she and their daughter Effie (Emily Berrington) suffer the brunt of his jealousy and bitterness.

The couples are worlds apart and it’s not long before the cracks begin to show. The stage seems set for an exploration of friendship and the strain put on their relationships by their unequal lives – but Dunster has bigger ideas, taking the characters to unexpected and at times disturbing territory.

He throws a lot into the mix, veering from sex offences to environmental crises in the Niger Delta and Russia’s Sakhalin Island.

It’s a bold approach, particularly when he stops the action to allow Effie’s idealistic boyfriend Castro (John MacMillan) an extended diatribe against the world’s evils. He concludes “People don’t want to know about it because it’s boring” – is this a knowing jab at the audience who might well feel the play has begun to drag?

The play is weaker when it drifts into these areas, but the pace zips for the most part and there is much to enjoy when the focus is kept closer to home, with a funny and well-observed script matched by excellent performances. Berrington is often hilarious as self-obsessed model Effie, as she and Castro do their best to match their elders in the dysfunctional relationship stakes, while D’Silva and Fox offer deft portraits of the deeply unlikable men at the heart of matters.

Four stars

* At the Almeida Theatre in Almeida Street, N1, until Saturday June 30.

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