FringeReview UK 2018
This is one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree – again in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd, involving the same three actors – Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon in a virtuoso display of registers and styles. Niftily directed by Dominic Grieve, with Peter Small’s lighting creating a set through miraculous kaleidoscopes, black-outs, red-ins and filters, it’s all you need. On occasion – when bleak jangles or riotous pop music are invoked – the sound’s completed by Dominic Kennedy. They can be seen in a single day. Till March 3rd.
Out of Love confirms we should now be seeing much more of Elinor Cook’s work. The play returns from its Paines Plough Theatr Clwyd premiere last year, now following hard on Cook’s adaptation for the Donmar, Ibsen’s The Lady From the Sea.
It’s one of the three shorts by different writers mounted by Orange Tree – again in association with Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd, involving the same three actors – Katie Elin-Salt, Sally Messham and Hasan Dixon in a virtuoso display of registers and styles. Niftily directed by Dominic Grieve, with Peter Small’s lighting creating a set through miraculous kaleidoscopes, black-outs, red-ins and filters, it’s all you need. On occasion – when bleak jangles or riotous pop music are invoked – the sound’s completed by Dominic Kennedy. They can be seen in a single day.
Out of Love about the thirty-year friendship between Grace and Lorna is superb: the finest portrayal of friendship between young women I’ve seen. Swiftly poignant, exuberant, touching, hilarious, devastating – and back again. It’s the obverse for instance of Jane Upton’s excoriating All the Little Lights seen at the Arcola in 2017. Suggesting a timeline of the two born in the early 1980s, we get a date of 2011 late on.
The title’s from an Elena Ferrante interview quote, about letting your guard down particularly with men, ‘out of love’, being screwed by that. It might start with childhood but zigs and zags throughout the seventy minutes and ends with an epilogue from the girls’ pre-history as it were.
We’re plunged into north-east England and childhood games with Dixon’s first multi-role as the boy George. There’s spiciness and elision as Elin-Salt and Messham bandy Cook’s pared dialogue with a lean physicality to go with it. Tonal registers change with age from child through teenage and early adulthood to sophistication which both share despite their divergent paths. It’s not often we get so many registers, particularly since progression isn’t simply linear, but works in reveals. Messham’s swotty hesitation contrasts with Elin-Salt’s élan, the natural leader who loses it.
Grace is the smarter, certainly more dominant and later sexually engrossed of the two. There’s some wonderfully liberating scenes where the two discuss sexuality with a tenderness raunchiness and lack of coyness that’s like an adult update of Andrea Dunbar from the early 1980s. Sobering to think that in one scene this play highlights that Dunbar’s protagonists could easily be Grace’s and Lorna’s mothers, certain their daughters will enjoy a liberation they’ve never known.
Lorna’s the careful one though it’s Grace who’s saved up £900 to get away to university. But Grace falls pregnant, Lorna gets to university and her first break by pinching an idea – Mass Observation on a local tape recorder – originally Grace’s project.
It’s sparked by posh Charlie already headed for Goldsmith’s – Dixon touchingly absurd here as the champagne socialist with his talk of families ‘rooted in these great industries. The ships. The mines.’ Undeterred by their demise he presses ‘to reach a better understanding’. It’s in these flashes of culture clashes that Cook hints at larger social energies, disjunctions that pull the two friends apart. As well as the men; hence the title.
It’s pivotal for Lorna whose lecturer stepfather wishes to separate her from Grace and doubtless encourage her in the Charlies and Camerons of this upcoming Blair world. Charlie’s attracted as are others to the personally shy, precociously shapely Lorna, much to the chagrin of the more eager Grace, who often outrageously subverts some of Lorna’s affairs.
There’s a superb scene where Grace hijacks Lorna’s latest squeeze Sam by challenging him to give them points out of ten (an eight he thinks is decent!), and then turns the seduction on its head. ‘You two girls are exhausting’ expresses the bewildered cry of a boy entrapped in the sinewy lines of Cook’s dialogues – never more than a couple of lines she feels, or the energy’s lost: there are only a few exceptions. Cook’s lean compressions play beautifully.
Paradoxically the more cautious Lorna recalls she’s never been without a boyfriend since she was thirteen, but the more overtly sexual Grace bringing up a daughter, lacks anyone. It’s something Small’s lighting here picks out with a brief, bone-jarring stab, then suffused poignancy, in terminal reds, and blackouts. It dazzles in depth.
There’s fine work from Dixon inhabiting so many male roles, all portraying aspects of male dominance, interference, inadequacy, and ultimately destructiveness. Lorna’s estranged father, desperately takes evening classes in a forlorn attempt to better himself in the face of his lecturer replacement, who’s more controlling. All he can offer Lorna is a naff dress which Grace is happy to purloin. Thus one funeral when Lorna’s sixteen provides a great moment of double betrayal from Grace – as Lorna sees it.
We glimpse Grace latterly through the lightning world of Lorna – her career interview with Dixon sublime as an oleaginous boss-to-be, the litany of ever-more-exotically named boyfriends. And the time when Lorna wants to use the money of one for Grace’s sake. Their language too has grown sophisticated, adult. It’s also regretful, freighted too with the journey – like the women Grace recorded who disheartened her with their repetitive litany of loss and poverty. Lorna turns this on her, having filched the idea, by trying to pay her back metaphorically and with cash for her ailment. ‘You don’t have to be like the women on your tapes. You don’t have to just get on with it.’ We’re almost immediately thrust back to the time when Grace at seventeen reveals her horde with the telling ‘Are you listening?’ This play is amongst other things how friends listen to and fail to listen to each other.
There’s much in this sweet, fleet and heart-breaking narrative that needs to be seen, including the poignant, unexpected epilogue. Elin-Salt’s keen dominance and hilarious, painful switch-backs and tricksy gambits can tumble to devastation. Messham here rises superbly to the challenge of bewilderment, reticence and the layered conveying of guilt at her own luck. It’s a thumbnail classic and the one essential play in this sparky trilogy.