Thursday, November 24, 2011



Mercury Theatre Studio, Colchester
Pilot Theatre with York Theatre Royal

The discomfort is the point. We're in a staff room on some anonymous industrial estate. It's a tipas rank and messy as the lives and loves of the two people who seem almost trapped inside it, under the harsh glare of the strip lights.
They are a man nearing retirementconvinced he'll die at sixtyand a woman in her twenties, who's driven some distance to seek this confrontation, a ghost from his past.
As they talkand Harrower's dialogue is incredibly realistic, with unfinished phrases, loops and overlapswe learn of their shared pastan "illegal relationship" when she was twelve and he was in his forties. We feel uncomfortable, eavesdropping on their raw, brutal exchanges, constantly wrong-footed by each new twist, each fresh revelation.
He has moved on, or so he thinks. Paid the price, changed his name, found a hard-won career. She has stayed in the same house, braving the stares and the memories. But it eventually becomes clear that both of them are trapped in the past, and his choice, when it comes, is violent and shocking.
In extended monologues, we follow them back through her therapy letters, never sent, his letter of explanation, and recollections of the barbecue where they met, the codes, the car, the park, to that night in Tynemouth when their shared fantasy falls apart as the clock strikes midnight.
The play's seventy minutes hold several surprises, the lastno spoilers herea simple piece of staging which is painfully potent. But it is the characters that stay with us, both of them actedby George Costigan and Charlie Covellwith searing honesty, and a little humour amongst the darkness. The dialogue is often electric, powerful in its inarticulacy.
Director Katie Posner wisely lets the words do the work, trusting her players to run with the moments. Peter is nervous, defensive, his eyes itchy, his clothes crumpled. Una is angry, fretful, trembling and tense. Just before the end, we see a hint of what they lost all those years ago, as they share desperate laughter and childish fun.
And we can't help wondering, as we debate the rights and wrongs, the truth and the blame, what will happen to them now, these two vulnerable people whose space we've invaded for a crucial, uncomfortable hour.
This brilliant piece of theatrefilm or television just wouldn't dowas first seen in Edinburgh in 2005. This production began its small tour in York, and will end in Exeter next week.

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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