Duke Of York's Theatre, London WC2

Opened 28 September, 2009


Andrew Bovell’s 1996 play is a wonder of intricacy, interweaving the lives of nine characters (played by four actors) in a cat’s cradle of connections whilst actually dealing with the absence of connection, in particular of trust between one person and another. It begins a little showily, with two adulterous couples playing the same hotel-room scene in the same space and not only simultaneously but often in unison, then each returning home to their spouse who was in the “other” hotel room at the same time, followed by the two husbands striking up a conversation by chance in a bar, then the two wives... It is terrifically well assembled, but it seems to set more store by form than content.
But towards the end of the first act, one of each couple gets to tell a prolonged anecdote: one about a man’s encounter with the former love of his life, the other about a woman who went missing the other night. After the interval we see these stories joining the web, touching each other and the initial four characters, and all the time the striving for understanding and trust one to another, the striving in vain.
Ian Hart finds a common thread in his portrayals of the husband who didn’t go through with the adultery, the lovelorn man and the husband of the missing woman, this last most impressive of all in its tightly-wrapped unpleasantness; John Simm suggests inner complexities to the adulterous husband and simplicity (whether truthful or not) in the murder suspect; Lucy Cohu is admirably brittle as a relationship therapist; Kerry Fox contrasts the diffidence of her first-act character with the articulacy of her second-. The only real problem with Toby Frow’s production is that he elects to make it geographically unspecific rather than Australian in particular: the notion of being abandoned in the back of beyond is far further and more frighteningly back and beyond in an Australian context.
It may be a hard sell for the West End, but nevertheless the man leaving the theatre behind me who grumbled, “I would far rather have stayed home and watched Poirot” is grievously in error. I maintain my opinion from the play’s British première in 2000: it is a work “of shimmering, iridescent beauty, revealing the marvellous in the everyday.”
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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