by Lucinda Coxon.
Hampstead Downstairs Eton Avenue Swiss Cottage NW3 3EU To 7 January 2012.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 4pm. except 24, 31 Dec 2.30pm only.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7722 9301.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 December.
Together yet alone as Christmas comes: a notably original picture of disconnected connections.
They share a flat, but their relationship isn’t a relationship. Life surrounds them blankly like the huge white carpet stretching around them, and the huge sofa which all but swallows them up. Justine and Michael, running out of their twenties with nowhere to go, have jobs, she in a company where young women are sexual targets for male executives; he in a private venture.
Justine keeps life at bay by perpetual fury, emitted in short stabs of speech, Michael by a soft-voiced stillness that signals his emotional isolation.
Yet he’s the one dealing in professional intimacy, as a ‘phone-sex female impersonator. At first he’s entirely detached, taking credit card payments from Saddo before purring in androgynous tones as the older man’s supposed “princess” of a daughter.
But the ‘phone conversations go beyond his comfort zone, as Saddo’s questions take him to the edge between sex as idealised fantasy and prurient physical detail. The caller’s insistence on charging his credit card confines Michael when he seeks escape from emotional demands by refusing payment.
Meanwhile, as the festive season looms (Herding Cats first saw the light of evening last December at Bath’s Ustinov Studio), Justine’s aggressive self-defence is punctured amid a life of high energy and subsequent vomiting which displays its own kind of vulnerability.
Bath’s cast have moved to Hampstead in Anthony Banks’ splendidly-judged production, its self-conscious movement between scenes catching the spirit of the age, a restless individuality where the present is stronger than any longer-range purpose. Though the two young people finish together on their huge sofa, Lucinda Coxon’s final line is a repeated question and any sense of mutual responsibility seems precarious.
Variously gripping – the hushed ‘phone-sex conversations contain a sense of desperation with duplicity lapping around – and humorous, the play’s sense of disconnection between the surface of existence and depth of experience is given force by Olivia Hallinan’s loud, energetic Justine, never coming physically to rest until the end, and Philip McGinley’s quiet, evasive Michael, his shifts in response indicated by silence or the slightest change of expression, while David Michaels gives his customer a stern reclusiveness.
Justine: Olivia Hallinan.
Michael: Philip McGinley.
Saddo: David Michaels.
Director: Anthony Banks.
Designer: Garance Marneur.
Lighting: James Mackenzie.
Sound/Composer: Alex Baranowski.