Pros: A brilliant script and a beautiful performance from Nancy Sullivan.
Cons: Although intimate, the venue has a dark and airless atmosphere, which can sometimes be uncomfortable.
London theatre never fails to surprise me. The latest shock is that the New Wimbledon Theatre has a studio! Like all good studio theatres it stands at the vanguard of new, innovative productions and Fabric is no exception. It tells the story of Leah (Nancy Sullivan) in a one woman, one act play exploring the thoughts of a girl who thought she had found the man of her dreams.
The title is a reference to her job in a Saville Row tailors and a metaphor for the strands of her life that slowly begin to unravel. An open space is occupied only by a double bed with movable blocks underneath. Sullivan, as Leah, enters dancing to the Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’. A soundtrack occasionally kicks in with other girl group tunes; the Crystals’ ‘Then He Kissed Me’ and ‘Today I Met The Boy I’m Gonna Marry’ all help to trace the story of Leah and Ben.
An hour and twenty minutes would never seem long enough to tell a surprisingly complex tale, but Nancy Sullivan pulls it off with captivating style. Leah is a brilliantly constructed character: attractive, funny and likable. Girls would like to be her friend, guys would like to date her. It is exactly this universal appeal that makes the story so authentic; everybody knows somebody like Leah.
Tragically, everybody also knows somebody like Ben and his friend Phil. Leah describes her first meeting with Ben in forensic detail. He came into the shop one day looking for a ‘going out’ suit. We all remember that moment, a glance; a smile, the first hello; wow, no wedding ring! The awkwardness between two people that really like each other, a frisson of chemistry neither one of them can ignore.
Then the courting ritual begins; a drink, dinner, introduction to friends, the ‘your place or mine’ decision are all explored in familiar detail. Then the big one, Sunday dinner with the in-laws. Leah’s Mum is all over Ben like a cheap suit and leads to the play’s killer line ‘no one’s good enough for a son, but anyone’s good enough for a daughter’. This line hit me like a bolt and I’m still thinking about it now. Do Mummy’s boys always win out over Daddy’s girls? It’s a fascinating proposition that exposes double standards in family dynamics.
So to the wedding day and Leah becomes Mrs Ben Cavendish; the bedsheets become an impromptu wedding dress as she describes an unsettling, almost traumatic wedding night. The months roll by as the first flush of romance wears off and the routine of married life sets in. Leah gets a call from ex-flatmate, Kate: fancy coming out to karaoke? Feeling frustrated and neglected, Leah gets her best outfit on for a night on the town. Leah takes the mic and sings a great version of Peaches And Cream.
Then confusion, intoxication; should she have had that last drink? Subsequent events that evening are described in graphic detail. Voicemail messages from Leah’s mum, Ben and Kate bounce back and forth. What happened, where, where, why and how? It’s disturbing and compelling in equal measure, and a terrifying reminder of how relationships can go bad. Nancy Sullivan delivers a spotless performance with an outstanding script. The only downside for me was the cavernous, occasionally stuffy venue that could do with some aircon. But a stunningly good play that explores the darker side of life with great insight; I hope this will be the first of many plaudits.
Author: Abi Zakarian
Director: Tom O’Brien
Producer: Robin Rayner & TREMers
Box Office: 0844 871 7646
Booking link: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/fabric/new-wimbledon-studio/#buy-now
Booking until: Crawley and Canterbury: 22 July 2016, Edinburgh Festival: 4-28 August.