by Mike Bartlett.
Watford Palace Clarence Road To 3 May 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 3pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 01923 225671.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 25 April.
Skilfully minimalist, detailed account of friendship under strain.
With two well-known actors, a simple-seeming set and the involvement of Paines Plough, tourers of new plays, it seems likely this production will have a life beyond Watford. And that Mike Bartlett’s play will find further life after this production. It will tempt directors to use the anonymity of the two friends identified only as A and B to find new resonances in varying their age, physical characteristics, regional origin, ethnicity etc.
Meanwhile, the characters are young White adults, slightly indeterminate between middle and non-middle class, though to deny the label might well be wishful thinking on the part of A. She is a teacher; B we learn sets up home with a lover called Hannah, by whom he has a child.
The ultra-economy of Bartlett’s piece (several lines in the printed script indicate a character but give them no words) allows scope for actors’ personalities, which James Grieve’s production develops in two contrasting yet fully-realised performances.
Rachael Stirling has the showy part; in whom drink fuels lies and excitability, with sudden changes of mood, sarcasm and exaggeration. From the opening dance, beautifully executed but also a prelude to her impulsive volatility, through her mime of stopping events by jumping on an imaginary giant button and exaggerated enthusiasm for bought-in canapés, she has the edge-of-nerves energy that shoots sharp daggers under the cloak of reason, calling on corroborative support from audience members.
John Hollingworth’s more phlegmatic B is given equal detail in his attempts to maintain friendship by applying reason when arguing with someone adept at being defensive and issuing challenges, as his own life slides through an increasingly uncertain offstage relationship.
The play is modern not only in setting but in its focus on the open relationship between two young, well-educated adults. By giving them no context it provides a close focus, bringing to attention their personal tensions, which end-up mattering more than the political issue which begins their separation: the matter of military intervention in Iran.
This remains more cause than subject of analysis, surrounding them visually as news-footage in a final image of their inextricable, strained friendship.
A: Rachael Stirling.
B: John Hollingworth.
Director: James Grieve.
Designer: Lucy Osborne.
Lighting: David Holmes.
Sound: Tom Gibbons.
Assistant director: Kay Michael.