by Jez Butterworth.
Theatre Royal (Studio) St Leonard’s Place YO1 7HD To 23 July 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 2pm.
Runs 1hr 25min No interval.
TICKETS: 01904 623568.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 July.
Parlous lives on the edge, seen at close-quarters.
“Oh the difference of man and man,” says one of Jacobean drama’s sexually stirred, trapped women. It might be repeated by the ironically-named Joy in Jez Butterworth’s three-hander. Her solution, possibly, is undermining husband Ned by systematically stealing his property.
Butterworth provides a teasing clue, but if concealing reality is a staple for modern dramatists, it’s justified here. For, if Joy is being light-fingered with a clutch of sometimes heavy goods, she might also be blocking it out of her consciousness amid the quiet insecurity of these characters.
Nothing’s secure, including Joy’s bedtime scrabble sessions with neighbour Dale, whose anxieties appear less simply because it’s not his home the play visits. For every house is identical in this story of suburban paranoia and angst, except the cracks run different directions. Only the lower-status estate over the fields defines the play’s confined world.
Katie Posner’s revival captures the Pinter-like gnomic quality and sexual tension. Simeon Truby’s Ned replays videos of his day-job, demolishing buildings from cooling-towers to an Arndale Centre. Focusing on these controlled implosions is more comfortable than considering the slow collapse of his own life.
Meanwhile, he flails around, worrying about losing property rather than why he acquired the objects in the first place – Gem Greaves’ set, with its mess of objects stuffed under the dominant double-bed, could be an upmarket version of the room in Pinter’s The Caretaker.
Acquisition clutters lives, while Ned’s attempt to learn oral-sex techniques through headphones leads to comically grotesque expressions. His campaign for physical fitness doesn’t include the bravura comedy of Ian Rickson’s 2009 Almeida premiere, but an exercise scene with Stephen Billington’s far fitter Dale makes the neighbour’s evident physical superiority innocently clear.
And Helen Kay shows how suburban sexual shenanigans originate in the disgust and evasions of domestic life, tired pretence in her voice and half-concealed disgust in facial inflections building the sense of domestic imprisonment.
In his subsequent dramatic star-turn Jerusalem Butterworth celebrates Johnny “Rooster” Byron, vibrantly alive in, it might be, the woods outside Parlour Song’s walls. Here, in York, we’re reminded what he’s escaping.
Dale: Stephen Billington.
Ned: Simeon Truby.
Joy: Helen Kay.
Voice of Doctor: Julia Watson.
Director: Katie Posner.
Designer: Gem Greaves.
Lighting: Nicolas Duncan.