AT THE ROYAL COURT
The subject matter for debbie tucker green’s new play may be romantic love, but there’s very little in it. Five brilliant actors play three couples, and the audience becomes privy to (mostly) their arguments. It could be dull, but is transformed by an ability with language that’s phenomenal. More like a poem than a play, its remarkably recognisable everyday voices are combined with startling musicality.
Language isn’t the first thing that strikes us, though. Working with designer Merle Hensel, the seating consists of swivel stools in the centre of the space, with a raised stage on three sides. Performers draw on green floor-to-ceiling chalkboards. Any connection between their scrawls and communication isn’t elaborated. A more immediate connotation is a tennis match, as words start to fly and feelings that should be left unsaid are spoken out loud.
The majority of the play is spent with a young couple, called A and B, with back and forth scenes of tension in their disintegrating relationship, blissfully interspaced with glimpses of joy and sensuality. With such variety in emotions, actors Gershwyn Eustache Jnr and Lashana Lynch deserve the highest acclaim. Fights, trivial and important, as the post-mortem of their marriage is picked over, have a disturbing rawness. The inventive structure moves perspectives, continually searching the past and examining lost potential.
There are two further scenes, showing an older couple, Woman and Man, played by Meera Syal and Gary Beadle, then Man’s new relationship with Younger Woman, played by Shvorne Marks. The acting is again superb, but these stories feel truncated, the characters less fleshed out and parallels forced. Giving them so little time is one of the smaller puzzles here – so many questions are raised that the play will not satisfy all audience tastes.
The annoying lower-case title alludes to defining something. One way of doing that is to remove specifics, making the dialogues a questioning of Form (no escaping a capital letter here). tucker green certainly provides few particulars. But a warning – trying to work out ‘what’s going on’ is ingrained, and having so little to work with can be frustrating in a play. The trick instead might be to focus on the theme of communication. The characters are said to either talk too much or too little. And their ‘look’ – a fruitfully theatrical element brought to the fore with the author working as director, aided by such a strong cast – shows there is more to a conversation than words. Aiming for a definition on love inevitably falls short. But the attempt at elucidation here still has many pleasures.
Until 1 April 2017
Photo by Stephen Cummiskey