HENRY & ELIZABETH
by Chris Goode.
Tour to 31 July 2010.
Runs c 1hr 30min No interval (or make your own).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 June at a home in Northampton.
Where going round and round is OK.
Opening its Hometown season, Northampton’s Royal and Derngate imports Signal to Noise with this story of a twenty-somethings’ relationship at the 8-year stage. It could work well enough – OK, so to speak – in a theatre, where domestic details would help build the characters’ relationship But what happens when this background scenery becomes a foreground?
Kitchen, living-room, bedroom: the precise locations of this piece change nightly, for each show takes place in somebody’s home (this being Signal to Noise’s signature feature).
Ordinary actions acquire interest when done on stage. Similarly, ordinary-seeming dramatic action takes on new immediacy performed close-up, when an actor flops on the seat next to you, or peers through a window by the sill you’re leaning on during the promenade performance. Background awareness that the books or DVDs being handled are (probably) the homeowners’, gives added interest.
Key to all this is the unusual relationship between what’s ‘real’ and what ‘pretend’ as two characters treat somebody’s home as their own, lying on the floor, getting into bed, slouching over a sofa, washing dishes, making toast (specifics change nightly to accommodate each house). Sometimes they talk to us, at others ignore our presence. But what’s it all about?
Obsessions hide inside everyone; Henry’s is with the letter O. And as he and partner Elizabeth prepare for their 8th anniversary together, it’s clear the names Chris Goode’s given his characters aren’t accidental. They recall Henry and Liza in the children’s song ‘There’s a hole in my bucket’, its slowly developing exchange of problems and impatient suggestions leading back to the start-point. Staggered through the evening, the song charts the varying moods in this relationship with its discontents, fears and hidden hopes.
Keeping this mix of private thoughts and shared conversation coherent is the theme of a relationship as something separate from its inhabitants. So the play resembles J B Priestley’s I Have Been Here Before in its idea that while life may seem to go round, humanity depends on finding a way to change and develop. This is why they, and their play, end up, in Henry’s favourite phrase, OK.
Henry: Philip Bosworth.
Elizabeth: Claire Burlington.
Director: Chris Goode.