THE SOFT OF HER PALM
by Chris Dunkley.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 23 October 2012.
Sun-Mon 7.30pm Tue 2pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 14 October.
Mutually assured destruction in ‘Domestic’ drama.
Sarah feels her palm’s soft; Phil finds it tough enough when she slaps him. His punch at her seems even harder, but comes later in their relationship, though earlier in the play. For, like Harold Pinter’s 1978 Betrayal – and at roughly the same playing-length if considerably shorter in the time-scale of its action – Chris Dunkley’s new play unwinds backwards in time, from the end of a relationship to its hopeful beginning.
Pinter’s trio are self-controlled, unlike this wild, suspicious pair with their threats, blackmailing use of Sarah’s young daughter from a previous relationship and self-harming as expressions of their loathing. These fade out as the earlier months are reached, but by then we know, as Phil and Sarah don’t, where it’s all leading.
Even the chic restaurant Phil the chef has opened becomes a pawn in the power-game that ends in destitution (starving Poppy’s left holding the cooling takeaway that’s all the former restaurateur can eventually afford) and news of the police being called.
It doesn’t have, or seek to have, Pinter’s precision and resonance, but it brings the mutual destruction out of a culturally rarefied enclave into the body of middle-class society. These aren’t social rejects, or incapables; they are people physically attracted to each other but temperamentally unable to trust and love each other.
The warnings are there from the start (which is at the end) in Sarah’s criticism of Phil’s self-image of his own niceness, and in her intensity, which makes his unlikely-sounding allegations about her behaviour credible enough in time.
It’s a fascinating dramatic game, where the balance of awareness slowly tips towards the audience. By the later scenes we know what’s coming, while the characters retreat into hopes for their future, Daniel Harvey’s packing-case set forming a constant reminder of the final dissolution.
Director Ola Ince might have guided the performers to greater variety of tone; the hectic action and relentless hectoring can be tiresome and generalised before the mutual history is revealed. Destructive couples have interludes of calm; as Phil and Sarah shout through the night, it’s the neighbours who most deserve sympathy.
Sarah: Tilly Gaunt.
Phil: Simon Bubb.
Poppy: Abigail Cole Jarvie/Carmelina Meoli.
Lucy: Siubhan Harrison.
Mick: Sean Murray.
Director: Ola Ince.
Designer: Daniel Harvey.
Lighting: Elliot Griggs.
Sound: Max Pappenheim.
Movement: Jenny Ogilvie.
Fight director: Kevin McCurdy.
Assistant director: Suzanne West.