Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 14th November, 2017
Patrick Marber’s award-winning play from 1997 is brought to fresh life in this production from final year students at the Birmingham School of Acting (which, I believe, is now part of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire). A four-hander, it charts the ups and downs, the comings (I use the word advisedly) and goings of two couples, glimpsed at various stages of their encounters across a period of years. Gaps of months and years occur and it is largely down to the audience to fill in those gaps.
We meet Dan (Shobat Kadara), an obituary writer and failed novelist, who leaves his girlfriend to strike up a relationship with Alice (Mara Huf) whom he has rescued from a minor traffic accident. Alice is a young, chaotic, impulsive and American stripper – it’s no wonder Dan’s head is turned. He later cheats on Alice with photographer, Anna (Muyiwa Ibie) who, thanks to a prank sex-chat Dan has online with dermatologist Larry (Seabert Henry) finds a husband. But not for long, because Dan is on the scene and Alice is out of the picture – until Larry meets her at a gentleman’s club…
The twists and turns keep coming, to the gasps of the audience. It is not the sexually explicit nature of the dialogue that shocks us, it’s how unbelievably (or perhaps all-too-believably) selfish these people are – the men especially. The irony is that they never get any closer to each other. Desire, it turns out, gets you nowhere in the long run.
The excellent quartet of performers play out these melodramatic moments with a strong degree of truth, firing off Marber’s rapid-fire barbs. Director Vik Sivalingam paces the arguments well so there is a naturalistic feel to the exchanges. Even though these people seem somewhat rarefied, with their jobs, for example, and Marber’s spiky script aims for punchlines and come-backs, and the minimalist setting of movable blocks and frames stylises the presentation, the watchword for this production is Truth, both as a theme and as a performance quality. The traverse staging adds to the intimacy of the already cosy Ron Barber studio.
Other themes might be, “The grass is always greener” and “You can’t handle the truth!”
Not a great advertisement for human beings and relationships, this nearly perfect production is a superb showcase for the talents of these young people at the threshold of their careers.