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FringeReview UK 2019

The Affair

Gibbons and Gaulier

Genre: Absurd Theatre, Bouffon, Clown, Comedy, Devised

Venue: Rialto Theatre


Low Down

Trouble doesn’t just bubble beneath the surface in Gibbons and Gaulier’s rambunctious comedy, it extravagantly boils over.


A love match between hapless, list-crazed Gustav and flouncy Daffadowndilly is fraught with misunderstandings. He can’t manage to pop the question, she thinks only of her beauty and refinement. The unlikeliness of their relationship is thrown into further chaos with the arrival of playful Lark, frisky with feathers and prone to ballet.
There is much to love in this production. It pushes visual jokes to the limit and has fine characterisation from its three clowns. Claudio Del Toro’s Gustav is a simpleton, a rake and a devil, nimbly switching tone as he plays games with his role and the audience. He’s our conduit to the madness of the household and shows huge emotional range whilst always being an idiot.
The Affair is properly bouffon in how it relentlessly sets up and repeats gags, using the actors physicality to drive jokes to a point just on the brink of collapse. Daffadowndilly (co-writer Amy Gibbons) maybe “too busy with my face to dust” but she’ll sniff the audience and snort like a pig when it suits her. Shea Wojtus as Lark is a quieter presence, a third act detective brought in to upset the applecart. Gustav pivots between these two, unable to commit. There’s pull and push in the gender politics; the women are first played as dithering or manipulative fools but gain strength and power together.
Directed and co-written by Samuel Gaulier, the text bristles with absurdities and deft word-play, especially in the second act when Gustav takes on pan-European accents and language, reminiscent of the absurdist theatre of Daniil Kharms or Ionesco. Daffadowndilly’s “Did she allow you to step into her spherical realm?” and Gustav’s dreamy imagining of Jimmy the worm fighting in Afghanistan are keepers.
Played on Emily Jenkins elaborate set and in effective, bold costumes by Antonio Leverell, the cast make great use of the small stage and bring the audience fully into the action, offering crisps, testing our reflexes and turning one game punter into the beloved worm Jim. Composer James Pearson seamlessly threads sound and music through the show and the couple of musical interludes with nicely sung songs provide welcome moments of calm.  Props including a teeny violin and a painting of an anteater called Prokofiev add to the playfulness of the vision.
With a stronger narrative structure and more drive to the story The Affair would satisfy on every level. At two hours the material is stretched too thin, becoming over-reliant on its clowns to sustain our attention, needlessly recapping the plot in the second half. The performers’ energy, skill and commitment is hugely appealing. They are confident in their craft and deserve to be harnessed to a stronger script. Certainly a company to watch.