I was eagerly anticipating going to see An Intervention for two reasons: firstly, it’s by Mike Bartlett, whose plays are rarely performed in smaller, off-West End theatres, and secondly, this was my first visit to Riverside Studios.
The first thing that struck me was how large the theatre space was. The audience enters a dimly lit auditorium to be greeted by booming music (I had a brief flashback to my nightclub days!). Two barefoot actors are gracefully moving about the stage, whilst making interesting shapes with a giant web of interlinked ropes, or elastic, coming from ceiling to floor. It reminded me of the cat’s cradle game that children used to play with string (Google it!)
At the beginning, dialogue is very choppy, reminiscent of Caryl Churchill. We soon learn that A (Rachel De Fontes) is questioning B (Ed McVey) about why he has decided to support Great Britain’s intervention in the Middle East, whilst she goes on a protest march. The two have been friends for three years; B is an academic and middle-class (he insists he is not), A is a teacher. There is a lot of banter between the two and the dialogue is fast-paced. A rarely lets B off the hook, constantly questioning him about his life choices.
The set is bare, apart from the ceiling’s giant web of ropes. There is great use of this, as the actors physically engage with it throughout. It’s captivating to see – rather like watching a third silent actor, rather than a two-hander. It also provides an outlet for the duo’s anger and heightened emotions. Between scenes, there is fantastic use of music and projected voices announcing at times just a single word (art / canapés / ladder), and once a news recording about war.
There are a couple of things a little jarring, such as B wearing what looked like pyjama bottoms throughout, although he is visiting A at her flat at one point. Another time A says she loves B’s jacket, although he is not wearing one! These choices can clearly be remedied with a different costume or putting on a jacket and it would have remained truthful to the script. Additionally, although it was refreshing not to see a boring, cluttered, domestic set, my eye was often drawn to the very back of the stage, where sound / lighting equipment was clearly visible. But these are minor criticisms in the grand scheme of things.
An Intervention gains momentum when A, clearly drunk and angry, pushes B. He asserts it was “a hit”. As the story unfolds, B shows concern about A’s drink problem and suggests she seek professional help, on the advice of his girlfriend, Hannah. The two protagonists are constantly at war with each other – often arguing over Hannah.
Beatifully delivered monologues from both provide greater character depth and interesting interludes in this 90-minute piece. Although the ‘intervention’ of the title is discussed, it is the war between the two which is the dominant theme. The irony is that B cannot cope with difficult emotions and the personal friction with A (whereas “Hannah is a safe place”), yet he is a supporter of the international war being fought in the Middle East.
An Intervention makes for compelling viewing; there is conflict aplenty, and it confronts themes of friendship, loyalty, family, mental health and addiction. At its heart is the question of whether we can rely on our friends during difficult times, and how we adapt to people changing to have values which are contrary to our own.
The final scene, which reveals an unexpected plot twist, is extremely powerful and engaging. I was literally on the edge of my seat, desperate to know how the story would end. The two actors deliver excellent performances and I had tears in my eyes at the climax: that is a clear marker of just how much I enjoyed this play. How I would have loved to have seen this in a more intimate venue!
Written by: Mike Bartlett
Directed by: Alice Wordsworth
Produced by: Murmuration Studios
An Intervention plays at RIverside Studios until 15 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.