Cross any pub threshold at the moment and you’ll likely be met with eyes tensely glued to the football: the Drayton Arms is no exception. On this cold winter evening, spectators wait for France to steamroll Australia in sweltering summer heat, as I wait for the theatre to open upstairs. Suddenly the whole pub (well, one particularly antipodean corner of it) erupts in cheers – Australia 1, France 0. The storyline everyone expected has been upended: I can’t say I saw that coming. Then the bell rings, and I’m entering the world of We’re Few and Far Between, a play that twists and contorts reality and its narrative.
As the piece opens, music thumps through the air and the geometric-patterned stage is washed in red. A short, choreographed opening portrays tension and desire between the pair of actors. It’s immediately gripping. And then we’re in some kind of psychiatric facility? It’s hard to tell for a while. Tobias (Luke Cinque-White) casually interviews an intense, unnerving Penelope (a strong performance from Georgia Vyvyan). Penelope is fascinating to watch, as she intelligently dances around Tobias’ questioning of her past, and there’s something very redolent of Ruth Wilson in Vyvyan’s performance. But the portrayal of the relationship between doctor and patient feels incredibly misjudged. The psychiatrist presents so informally, seemingly irritated by his patient rather than attempting to understand or treat her, so it’s off-putting. At times I questioned whether I had properly understood the setting of the opening scenes, however there are enough clunky expositions dropped throughout the text to clear up any doubts.
From this relationship we are transported back into Penelope’s past. But which elements of this story are true? Much of her recollection is directed by her abusive partner, Luke. Cynque-White is much more convincing in his portrayal of a troubled teenager, desperate to project control. The production hits its straps in this central story, and it’s regularly engrossing and tragically believable. Watching Penelope be brainwashed by Luke, as he tries desperately to expunge her memories and fill the remaining vacuum with his authority, is at times genuinely chilling. A scene in which Luke attempts to exert his power through FaceTime, Penelope unusually free of his physical presence, is really effective and testament to strong character work.
Eventually we return to the doctor’s office in time to see Penelope come to terms with the truth of her past. I was intrigued about where the script would take us now. Already there had been some blurring of the lines between professional and personal in the patient-doctor relationship and I hoped that parallels might be drawn between the control Penelope’s boyfriend had over her, and the power held in a medical context. Either for social commentary, or just the arc of the piece, the final third of the play was ripe with potential. Sadly though, the energy of the piece drops right back down. The off-beat interactions of Tobias don’t turn out to be a premise – just a badly judged characterisation. Approaching the finale, the writing falls clumsily back on trying to didactically justify the play’s existence through the doctor’s lines, rather than through their own merit and interest. As I headed back down into the pub, I couldn’t help but feel an opportunity had been somewhat wasted. Looking up, I saw France had rallied to close out the match 4-1. Sometimes, the narrative just doesn’t live up to your expectation.
Written by Claudia Vyvyan
Directed by Alexzandra Sarmiento
We’re Few and Far Between has completed its current run at Drayton Arms Theatre.