Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 15 March, 2010

Excellence in plotting, characterisation, performance and presentation are all instrumental in delivering a superlative theatre experience; however, one of my greatest pleasures is when a show deftly delivers a sucker punch which makes laughter die in one’s throat.

The first half of Penelope Skinner’s 90-minute play is efficiently comic, but the four characters could have been written 25 years ago: the glib, deceitful yuppie, the strident feminist, the fat no-hoper and the ditsy blonde. The plot: yuppie no sooner beds blonde than is bored, sets about seducing virago by pretending ideological conversion, and the fat bloke is there for symmetry. Polly Findlay’s production is full of easy laughter, and I found myself feeling that some radical shift was needed to justify the evening, yet without believing that one would be forthcoming.

I was wrong. The moment that seals Mark’s conquest of Cassie turns on its head not only all the preceding glib humour, but also our own complicity therein. At this and other crucial moments, Matthew Pitman’s lighting grows harsher and brighter, illuminating the audience as well as the actors. After Cassie’s ranting-by-numbers about sexual power imbalances, we are forced into the selfsame objectifying gaze she has condemned... and, since the space is arranged in traverse, we gaze not only on the characters but also on each other, just as we ourselves are gazed upon. Even this moment is topped a little later when the hitherto insufferably twee Rose makes the ultimate protest against the voyeuristic gaze. The play’s title means the colour the eye sees in total darkness, once again emphasising that what we perceive may not be what is actually there.

Geoffrey Streatfeild judges his performance as Mark finely, beginning with broad patronisation but playing the more intimate moments so straight that we are never entirely sure there might not be some sincerity in the character, whilst Alison O’Donnell’s Cassie finds her entire identity thrown into jeopardy by his campaign. I confess I have sometimes found Sinead Matthews an irksomely mannered performer, so it is a relief to feel permitted to respond in this way to her portrayal of Rose. John Cummins as the absurdly named Tim Muffin gets little chance to compete with these three. Skinner still lets us off too easily, serving doses of humour up to the end, but the aftertaste of that masterly bait-and-switch lingers, acrid yet perversely welcome.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2010

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage