FringeReview UK 2017
a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun) premieres at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, written and directed by debbie tucker green (she eschews capitals). Designer Merle Hensel flips audience into the centre on swivel stools, hems actors round bleak duck-green traverse edges. Lee Curran’s subdued lighting hardens on any two performing one of the three linked duologues that follow. Christopher Shutt supplies sonic full stops. Till April 1st.
Debbie tucker green (she eschews capitals) directs her new play at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, flipping the audience into the centre on swivel stools, whilst designer Merle Hensel hems actors round bleak duck-green traverse edges where seats normally are; they periodically scrawl chalk lines. This exoskeletal gesture throws us into the intimacy behind words. Lee Curran’s subdued lighting hardens on any two performing one of the three linked duologues that follow. Christopher Shutt supplies sonic full stops. It’s an empty space filled with audience.
The periphrastic play, with squeaking hamsters. That latter moment suggests scutting rodents every time someone cricks their neck round on their swivel. WD40 might fix it.
Overlap speech here opens silences where you hear blood beating. Tucker green’s exploration eschews specifics, in set and words, ‘what might be/once was/could have been’. Everything dances tetchily around the word ‘love’ or a specific sexual act – there’s stages of rapture and disenchantment. The dread word ‘bored’ the woman A utters is the nearest specific. Tucker green refuses a local habitation and naming of things that anchors a play, yet leads away from her main premise: the current of what’s being said emotionally, shelled of any carapace of circumstance. Not that circumstances aren’t etched, privacy demanded to use the toilet or undress can be used as weapons; but tucker green’s gone as far as she can, paring down without losing the carrier charge.
Over half of the play’s length concerns a chronological jiggle of A and B, a couple zig-zagging their narrative with intimate confrontations; soft accusations, hard endearments. Lashana Lynch shines with an expressive shrug, an eye-roll, laconic dismissal flipped to hunched intensity. Gershwyne Eustache Jnr lobs back a power hand that crumples, can fine down a lumbering presence to bafflement and keening. Their chemistry seals the play’s transmission.
Two children and a sudden event post-dating an emotional scrunch stretches their inability to listen at key moments. It’s traditionally a male affliction where B the man’s accusation: ‘It’s not always all about you’ is riposted in mini-pauses: ‘Well. It usually is. Isn’t it.’ A allows assumptions by not communicating a dislike till it’s used as ammunition. B’s ‘You never said you didn’t like/it’ elicits A’s ‘I tolerated it and then just blocked it.. turned up the TV and faked a phone call…’ Familiar? It’s echoed in the third duologue but tucker green’s superb at the build and pause of phrases, litanic and the more rhythmic the more emotional it gets. B’s ‘I know-she’s-not-you- I know-she’s-not-you I still want… I know she’s not you… I cry most nights(I) cry every/night…’ preludes a revelation. Tucker green’s elided the next scene and some related material near the end: more specific, it might seem a distraction, however revealing.
A need for scherzo brings the lightened, still bitter exchange between Meera Syal’s Woman and Gary Beadle’s would-be-articulate Man to a welcome point. Literally when Beadle taunts ‘you want a version of you with a dick’ and Syal’s feline ‘something with a dick would be nice’ explodes uneasy hilarity and then a shock to Beadle’s cruel riposte. Yet the infinitely fragile reaching-out after the sudden revelations of the Man’s nursing echoes intensities earlier.
If the final section has the same Man some time later explaining away his visits back to his ex, to his much younger partner, daughter of A and B, Shvorne Marks’ Young Woman enjoys a fleetness offsetting Beadle’s avuncular lusts, and his gradation from wanting to change nothing (key phrase) speed-reads the way criticism and control ‘my last nerve’ are buffeted by silent resistance. Marks can use her family’s disapproval as foil to his visits. If Beadle’s character is relatively consistent, his assertive shift is nicely calibrated against a greater anxiety. There’s a shuddery touch when Marks’ states she’d prefer a grave to cremation: ’I’d come and tend it-‘ Beadle helps her; her ‘I’d be tending yours’ tells us all her power.
Squeaky seats aside, the eighty minutes absorb and assault us. Everything tucker green presents is nothing less, especially with this cast. It’s possible to imagine this as a Howard Barker-like blackout, or (as has ben suggested) on the radio; but periodic shifting of other actors not directly involved in each duologue shifts as they move around like chance DNA, underlines possibilities taken and usually, not.