After a brief solo speech from a nervous Esther, Spiderfly dives headlong into what feels like the first date from hell. Esther and Keith sit opposite one another seeking something to say – what to reveal to each other so early on in their relationship. It’s only when Esther declares “I hate you” that you question whether everything is quite as it seems, and just what Keith knows that she is so desperate to find out.
After such a terrible evening we next see Esther with Chris, again surely a first date? Only this time it is going so much more smoothly. Thus the play is set, two story arcs play out side by side, as Esther flips from one man to the other. Except that with each encounter between Esther and Keith a little more is revealed about exactly why she initially declared her hatred of him.
Lia Burge’s Esther is a show stealer; the little glimpses into her mind as she speaks to her dead sister bare her fragility, whilst her attempts at intimacy with Chris become quite painful to behold. Opposite her, Matt Whitchurch takes on both of her male interests. It’s an interesting decision to cast one actor to play both, but Whitchurch somehow manages to keep the two distinguishable using accent and the simple donning of a jacket. At times he might not quite capture the more questionable traits of Keith, but his Chris is played with delightful uncertainty, particularly his mistimed attempts to woo Esther.
The relationships Esther has with the two men dominating her life, for very different reasons, is played out in style. With Keith, they are always alone in a room that seems to grow increasingly darker as its true nature is slowly revealed. There is an intimacy in these close confines, an intimacy that reaches its zenith in very unsettling ways. In contrast, her relationship with Chris, which starts with intimacy on their first date, takes the opposite trajectory, going from familiar to almost impersonal, their contact no longer in person but through snatched Skype calls as he jets around Europe, never able to find time to really be alone with Esther. It’s these contrasting relationships that give this play its tension; its feeling that things are going to erupt at any moment.
What makes it work even more powerfully is some clever staging. The small space offered at Theatre503 demands that every inch is put to careful use. And Spiderfly does just that. Lizzie Leech’s set design is a visual delight – her use of mirrored windows which transform into phone screens underscores the feeling of lost intimacy as Esther and Chris speak from behind their own small squares. This is accentuated by Peter Small’s lighting, the flashing boundaries of their screens cleverly mimicking a Skype call, whilst the flickering lights add to the slowly escalating tension we all feel.
Spiderfly isn’t quite the thriller it suggests it is going to be. Suspense comes from anticipating a grand reveal. Here though, as each scene delivers new clues to what that climax will be, it seems a little obvious what the dreadful secret is. But thriller or not, it is a wonderful piece of drama with so much to recommend it. And an ending that feels right, even if it leaves you a little uncomfortable in your seat.
Written by: John Webber
Directed by: Kirsty Patrick-ward
Produced by: George Warren & Sofi Berenger for Metal Rabbit Productions
Booking link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/spiderfly/
Booking until: 30 November 2019