Pros: A perfect storm of text, cast and direction.
Cons: The second play is less dynamic than the first, but then these plays do examine differing states of relationship.
A lone seagull whirls against the sky on a painted backdrop, in front of which an actress sits on a wooden bench. This seaside pier is simply but impeccably realised in designer Lee Newby’s set, the weathered boards of the pier covering the stage of the intimate Trafalgar Studio 2. It makes a strong and skilful first impression, an apt introduction to a production of Stephen Berkoff’s two plays which excel in all areas.
On arrival Man (Shaun Dooley) is irresistibly drawn to Woman (Emily Bruni) but lacks the confidence to approach. This is mostly communicated non-verbally, letting the audience know early on that this is to be a show in which physicality complements text and theme. Dooley quickly reveals himself to be a master of technique, effortlessly expressive and in total command of the stage.
Woman is interested in Man, but won’t make the first move. Just when it seems the pair may become ships that pass in the night, the chance is rescued and a faltering courtship begins. Bruni’s performance is every bit as expert as Dooley’s and the pair work brilliantly together as the will-they-won’t-they narrative unfolds.
The great triumph of Nigel Harman’s production is that it signals with perfect clarity the subtext of Berkoff’s non-naturalistic dialogue. Pulsing just beneath the surface of the play’s riveting theatricality is the truth of human clumsiness.
Following Lunch, The Bow of Ulysses moves the action on 20 years. Man and Woman sit at opposite ends of the bench, estranged from each other and bitter about their relationship. The second play places more demands on the audience, as the characters are almost static and their interaction is minimal. But it’s an effective contrast to the physical energy of the first play, and there’s absolutely no dip in the quality of the performances as we watch Man and Woman excavate their messy entanglement.
This is a beautifully assured production of two distinctive plays about the way people relate to each other, with every component working in harmony to realise Harman’s confident vision. Sound and lighting design make a straightforward but significant contribution right up to the end – the audience leave the studio as a fairground organ arrangement of The Doors’ “People Are Strange” appropriately concludes the evening.
Author: Steven Berkoff
Director: Nigel Harman
Producer: Jimmy Jewell
Booking Until: 5 November 2016
Box Office: 0844 8717615
Booking Link: http://www.atgtickets.com/venues/trafalgar-studios/?gclid=CLqskca01c8CFUGVGwodUagAKw