Gate Theatre, London W11
  Opened 21 April, 2009

Director Lyndsey Turner seems drawn to plays in which the banal becomes charged with something darker looming just out of vision. Her work at the Royal Court includes Mike Bartlett’s Contractions and assistant direction on Martin Crimp’s The City and Jez Butterworth’s The Winterling, all different in style but similar in psychological register. Now, as associate director at the Gate, she stages what was originally another Court commission, the UK première of Juan Mayorga’s 2004 play, which is more Pinteresque (yes, that’s the missing word) than any of the aforementioned.
One man buttonholes another in a café; he seems absurdly happy to have finally made the proper acquaintance of this chap whom he greets in passing each morning in the stairwell of their apartment building, but then reveals that he knows his companion is an illegal immigrant. What follows could lead to an interesting meditation around the paradox of blackmailing someone into being one’s friend; in the event, the ensuing hour and a quarter-odd is much more impressionistic and less engaged. What we see is simply how strained, pregnant and oblique become the interactions between the two men, between them and their respective wives… between each two of the quartet, in fact.
This is thematically linked to night, as simple as that. Not the darkness of danger or terror, simply the darkness that makes things less straightforward, more obscure in every sense. The two men meet in the nocturnal animals’ house at the zoo; the victimised Tall Man (Justin Salinger) works nights in an old people’s hospice; the electric light in his flat goes on the blink, giving Short Man an opportunity to pop downstairs and be slightly too intrusive to Tall Woman (Justine Mitchell) while hubby’s at work; and so on. Scene changes are covered by video snippets of a graveyard-shift TV show in which Matthew Dunster plays a sleep-doctor in a fez.
The deliberately ambivalent tone is reinforced by casting actors better known for their comic performances, Paul Hunter and Amanda Lawrence, as Short Man and Short Woman. But the alleged satirical element is scarcely visible. People are sometimes distant in the big city, and quite often things aren’t fully revealed for one reason or another. Big deal. We are reminded of as much every time we look about us when we are out of an evening.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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