Last performed in 1986, this play leaves you feeling that perhaps little has progressed since then.
The plot of Progress sounds rather like that of a soap opera: battered wife shelters with disillusioned married couple, who have drifted apart since they invited a third party into their relationship, with the confused participants of a men's discussion group and a tabloid hack adding further drama and tension to the mix. The reality is, reassuringly, more subtle and revealing than this synopsis would suggest – and much more humorous.
This is a play of unhappy and, largely, undesirable characters; it is only Will, around whom they all circle, that the audience can empathise with. It is therefore all the more disappointing when Will is exposed to be the least happy and most undesirable of them all. Will, rather than his muck-racking lodger Mark or brutish Lenny (who uses his lunch break to beat his wife), forces the audience to question just how far we have progressed as a nation, especially in terms of our treatment of women – whatever the facade of middle-class liberalism would suggest.
The action unfolds across two consecutive Mondays and is restricted to Will and Ronee's living room. Progress is therefore a play that lends itself to the intimacy of the Union Theatre; you cannot imagine it working so well on a grander stage. The cast are all highly believable and well-cast, but two performances stick in the mind: Lenny, played by Martin Blakelock, and his tortured attempt to express his feelings for his wife through childlike poetry; and monosyllabic Bruce, played by Shaun Stone, who gets the largest laughs of the night through his deadpan delivery.
It is pleasing that this play had been revived; its themes are as relevant now as they were in the mid-1980s. Above all, Progress is extremely witty and entertaining, and therefore deserves to be performed once again.