Don’t Destroy Me is the rather breathless title of Michael Hastings’s first play which he wrote when he was just 18. The material draws on his adolescent years in a south London boarding house and the action opens with an elderly husband, Leo, and his unfaithful young wife, Shani, preparing for a visit from their handsome teenage son, Sammy. Leo knows that his marriage is being undermined by Shani’s affair with a cocky spiv who lives next door but this tawdry business fades into the background as the play starts to come alive.
The characters upstairs take over. The flat above is occupied by Mrs Pond, a pretentious fraud in her early forties who is desperate for romance and attention. She earns money by reading tea leaves and she claims to have a husband, Jack, and a white rabbit living with her. Neither have ever been seen, possibly because they don’t exist.
Mrs Pond’s only real companion is her teenage daughter, Suki, who wears a party frock and always hopes to be invited to a ball. Both these needy women conduct their business on the landing of the boarding house where they engage passers-by in conversation. Suki, who describes herself as ‘a tight little virgin’, tries to attract young Sammy but she does so clumsily by berating him for his lack of experience and sophistication. Sammy is 15. Suki is 17. Their frenetic and confused snatches of amorous dialogue are the best thing in the play.
The costumes and the furnishings are as good as you’ll find in the West End. Designer Alex Marker has done a first-rate job of solving the awkward stage requirements. The script calls for a private apartment, a public stairwell and a twisted corridor with three front doors leading off it, and his solution is an amazingly subtle ensemble that fits snugly into the Arcola’s limited playing area.