Playwright debbie tucker green – in giving her latest play that title – hasn’t made life easy for the marketing people, has she?
Indeed green, in her role as director, doesn’t seem particularly interested in making her audience comfortable, either – at least, not physically.
Upon arrival, we are seated upon short swivel-stools, surrounded on three sides by the two-foot tall raised stage. The five actors – already patrolling the performance area – are making rudimentary chalk-marks on the wall as they wait.
Right from the outset, ‘A’, Lashana Lynch (read interview), and ‘B’, Gershwyne Eustache Jnr, are hectoring each other – literally over the audience’s heads – from opposite sides of the ‘stage’. The seating arrangements mean that the audience is often swiveling around, so as to view the respective deliveries of the two ‘combatants’ – as if within an inverted tennis arena. However, the sheer unpredictability of the dialogue (i.e.; constant overlaps, interruptions, and infrequent pauses) ensures that – rather than constantly ‘following the ball’ – one is often forced to pick a side.
As the couple’s ‘back-and-forth’ becomes more episodic, and different emotional shades are revealed, the couple’s unfolding intimacy – and shared proximity – provides blessed relief for both them and us.
Each new ‘chapter’ – signaled by sound and light shifts – decreases the expectation that one (or more) of the other actors might get involved; it’s clear that we are with these two at least until their bitter end.
Initially, their conversations seem to be a straightforward dissection of a failed – or failing – heterosexual relationship. However, as the two protagonists move back and forth in time and space – exchanging barbs, sharing reminisces, revealing secrets, and revisiting major emotional landmarks – a deeper sense of their bond is revealed.
‘A’ and ‘B’ remain onstage after a resolution has been reached; thereafter, two further scenes unfold between – respectively – ‘Man’, Gary Beadle (read interview) and ‘Woman’, Meera Syal, and ‘Man’ and ‘Young woman’, Shvorne Marks.
Initially, one wonders whether the relationship/dynamic between ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ might follow the same narrative path as ‘A’ and ‘B’s’; their dialogue seemingly sharing a similarly antagonistic – and overlapping – nature.
It soon becomes clear, however, that these other two relationships/scenes exist on their own terms – despite being connected to / borne of what precedes them.
Not all of the overlapping dialogue is rendered effectively; there are times when one can almost hear the pauses/interruptions ‘as written’. However, for the most part, the conversations feel achingly realistic. To this end, the actors perform uniformly well. However, special kudos must go to Meera Syal and Lashana Lynch for delivering ‘turns’ that are emotionally committed, technically proficient, and quietly charismatic in equal measure.
By the end, what we are left with are three interconnecting narrative threads; ones that deals with the conditional quality of romantic love, the cause-and-effect of unresolved grief, and the unspoken/unspeakable aspects of emotional ‘contracts’.
The music – mainly minimalist piano – is beautifully judged, as is the lighting. The chalk-against-back-wall motif is intriguing; it’s almost as if the characters have to prepare their oratory by first making (child-like) visual/pictorial connections.
‘Props’ to debbie tucker green for writing and directing a truly interesting piece, not least because it puts ‘us’ – the audience – to work.