Multi award-winning playwright Owen McCafferty’s intense tale of adultery has a perfect home in this small pop-up theatre on Charing Cross Road. A traverse staging emphasises intimacy. No opportunity is lost to bring the play close to us; the actors help with scene changes and watch as the painful, sordid, action unfolds. Only 70 minutes long – the economy here is remarkable – the show is directed with unflinching precision by Adam Penford.
Four impeccable performances take us deep inside two relationships. Sean Campion and Niamh Cusack play a long-married couple; his casual pick-up in a bar leads her to retaliate by visiting a male escort. The subjects of their explicit sexual encounters happen to be a couple as well, performed by Ruta Gedmintas and Matthew Lewis. This younger pair, with their different attitudes to sex (there’s a lot of talk about freedom), could bear more exploration. The mundane is well observed; even under stress we sense how these relationships work day to day. Underpinning the play is the bleak observation of how alone people can be even when they are with someone.
As with Florian Zeller’s The Truth, McCafferty plays with characters lying to one another, mixing up the chronology of the action, to keep the audience guessing. A serious tone brings moments of dreary existential angst. Thankfully a sense of humour prevails and not just with nervous laughter at how frank the discussions of sex are. Cusack is especially good when her character seeks revenge, bringing out the play’s admirable subtlety with an in-depth study of her role. Like the romances it meticulously depicts Unfaithful is no grand passion that will light up your life. But strong performances ensure the play contains plenty of sparks.
Until 8 October 2016
Photo by Marc Brenner