by Michael Weller.
Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Sawclose BA1 1ET To 15 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Post-show Discussion 30 May 7.45pm.
TICKETS: 01225 448844.
then Arcola Theatre 24 Ashwin Street E8 3DL 19 June-20 July 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 29 June, 6, 13, 20 July.
TICKETS: 020 7503 1646.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 May.
Intense drama superbly executed.
Does size matter that much? Or is context almost all? A decade ago American Michael Weller’s What the Night Is For seemed over-extended in showing going-on-middle-aged lovers re-meeting in a hotel bedroom.
Some people complained there was no way to tell how much of what the characters said was true, leaving the relationship ill-defined. So Weller wrote two more plays, showing each lover with their spouse, changed Night’s title to Do Not Disturb and gave the lot the overall name Loving, Longing, Leaving. This play takes us home with Adam.
Whether it’s Weller writing a play where truth stabs out from lies of married life, or the concentration of the Ustinov’s small space, 50 Words is a searing experience.
Even C S Lewis, expert in medieval romance literature, and Christianity, only considered four words for different types of love. Weller asserts we need fifty for the complex experiences and feelings swept-up into one four-letter word.
Like Eugene O’Neill’s Long Days Journey Into Night and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Fifty Words follows a long-married pair through a night of doubt and anger. Albee’s play especially comes to mind, though these are deceptions rather than games, and Weller’s is a private-sector equivalent; Jan gave up a dancing career for a child she didn’t want, and now slogs away compiling computer marketing lists. Adam’s architecture practice is hitting hard times.
Throwing plot googlies between scenes, introducing a life-changing detail almost casually, Weller gives his actors emotional red meat, which both seize, Richard Clothier’s Adam, still playful after all these years, skids into superficialities, coming to a halt against Jan’s sudden determination.
Clare Price’s rivetting performance sees accommodation switch to determination, and determination war with saving her accustomed world. It’s a performance of subtle detail, the body stiffening, face-muscles tightening, walk becoming more determined and voice shutting-off argument, the edge of desperation occasionally showing.
It might seem Boswell (whose Ustinov seasons are an essential part of England’s theatre year) had nothing to do as director with these actors, an impression created by scrupulous attention to detail while shaping performers’ individual decisions.
Janine: Claire Price.
Adam: Richard Clothier.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer/Costume: Simon Kenny.
Lighting: Richard Howell.
Sound: Fergus O’Hare.
Dialect coach: Rick Lipton.
Fight director: Terry King.
Associate lighting: Jo Humphries.