Finborough Theatre, London SW10
Opened 12 May, 2011

Opening two days after I Am The Wind at the Young Vic, here is another 70-minute two-hander with a personal/abstract juxtaposition in its title, about individuality and relationships both personal and with the wider world. However, Naomi Wallace’s play achieves everything that Jon Fosse wanted to but failed, and more besides.

In fact, this is not strictly a two-hander: two pairs of actresses play Dee and Jamie at the teenage beginning and older end of their nine-year prison sentences. But one almost forgets that Cat Simmons is alternating scene by scene with Cherrelle Skeete and Sally Oliver with Lauren Crace, until the final scene brings them simultaneously on to the Finborough’s compact stage for an exquisitely and not at all hackneyed juxtaposition of youthful hopes and mature despair.

Wallace uses the full spectrum of expression to show Dee and Janie’s friendship from its initial stages through to its culmination. They talk directly, obliquely, oppositely or not at all: we see their bond from all angles. My initial, habitual reservations about this portrait evaporated in the second scene when young Dee, determined to make friends with Jamie and truthfully persistent rather than pushy, replied to a rebuff with the defiant simplicity of “I’m too dumb to walk away”. As they hatch plans for their life on the outside, when they will live together and get jobs as domestics, they instruct each other in subservience. This is not, however, the Genet-maids wavelength of dominance/submission (although they do beat each other for infractions); rather, they seem to be training themselves for stoicism if not outright martyrdom. For this is 1950s America, probably somewhere in the south, and Dee is white and Jamie black; as their older selves find, they cannot even walk along a street together without it being assumed that Dee, shabby as she is, is the mistress and Jamie her maid.

Caitlin McLeod’s production is appropriately unfussy: whether in the cell of even- or the boarding-house room of odd-numbered scenes, the matter is two people in a confined space, confined both physically and by the intangible rules and prejudices beyond those four walls. Like Fosse’s play, this is about company and isolation, about the one, the two and the world, but where Fosse sets himself all at sea, Wallace plants in rich, alluvial soil.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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