'Joy' review or 'I'll have none of those watery smiles.'

Joy, Stephanie Martin
Theatre Royal Stratford East, 26th October 2017
Written for Time Out

Joy is a busy person. She has a job at the pub, a place at college, a boyfriend (Paul), a best friend (Sue) and a fondness for pop music. Joy also has a learning disability and in Stephanie Martin’s thoughtful new play is played by disabled actor Imogen Roberts. Roberts is brilliant – so open and emotional – and it is her vibrant performance which forces us to think differently.
Joy’s story plays out against a giant blackboard, which designer Carla Goodman has filled with dotted images. As we learn more about Joy’s life, the dots are filled in and a rich picture emerges. We discover Joy’s deep love for her family; her passion for books, swimming, the cinema and drama; her desire to get married and have a baby.  
A sub-plot set in Victorian times – which sees two sisters (one with learning disabilities) try to find their place in the world – only slows things down. This is Stephanie Martin’s first full-length play and it’s a bit too full-length. Snippets from Joy’s life would’ve been ample material for a substantial and rewarding work.
Martin has a great eye for detail and notes the ‘watery smiles’ that Joy receives from the public. Above all, the play captures Joy’s capacity for love. The scenes between Joy and her gobby sister Mary (Rachel Bright) glow with easy affection, and there’s a delicate tenderness with boyfriend Paul (Deen Hallisey)Scene after scene, Joy brings out the best in those she loves and allows them to respond in kind, with honesty and hopefulness. 


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