The three principal characters of Jaki McCarrick’s drama The Naturalists are refugees from a society that, in their view, damages the earth and is toxic to the human heart. The time is 2010; the place, the Republic of Ireland’s Border Region. Brothers Francis and Billy Sloane (John Keating and Tim Ruddy) have settled into middle age as small-time farmers, accustomed to being alone with each other and the glorious landscape around them.
A pot of monkfish stew sits on the stove for most of Muswell Hill, Torben Betts’s barbed comedy—simmering, bubbling, issuing forth its varied flavors gradually and subtly. As does Muswell Hill. Set in 2010 in the titular leafy upscale London suburb—the equivalent of, say, Saddle River on this side of the pond—Betts’s work presents a troubled dinner party of mismatched individuals and couples, talking past and misunderstanding one another, drinking too much even though at least two begin as teetotalers, letting their libidos lead them to unwise decisions, and revealing personality traits simultaneously unexpected and inevitable. We’re in what seems familiar Alan Ayckbourn territory for much of it, then the hurts and regrets pile up, and the curtain falls on a very funny comedy that has also become a sad commentary on human foibles.