Saturday, 24 October 2009

Faces in the Crowd by Leo Butler ***

 By Leo Butler, Red Stitch Actors Theatre
At Red Stitch Actors' Theatre, Oct 24 to Nov 7, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

With nearly half of our married population facing divorce in their lives, Leo Butler’s Faces in the Crowd may hit a nerve in many people. This two-hander depicts an intense, uncomfortable, warts-and-all insight into the weird reunion of a couple ten years after separation.

Their meeting is emotionally bloody. Dave (David Whiteley), after five years of marriage to Joanne (Sarah Sutherland), disappeared ten years ago, leaving Joanne in the north of England with huge debts, unanswered questions and a deep incomprehension of why she was left without a word. Dave was never heard of again – until now.

And the pain gets worse. Joanne, after recent contact from Dave, arrives at his fancy London studio flat. She is bitter, angry and sniping at him. He is contrite initially, conciliatory, inviting her to walk by the Thames.

Whiteley and Sutherland capture the awful discomfort and awkwardness of this couple that now have nothing in common. We wonder whether they ever did when he describes how he felt trapped, dead and needed to escape when their marriage was at an end.

We also wonder why the heck he invited her to his home and why she came. They snipe and bicker, defend themselves and attack with cruel words and even physical violence. And why is Joanne slowly and surreptitiously and with what appears to be almost shame, peeling her clothes off ? And why is Dave not commenting?

But all becomes clear when we realise that she is taking her pound of flesh or, rather his seed. Joanne is closing 40 and wants a baby – and Dave owes it to her.

The acting is skilful. Whiteley captures the slick, smug tone and demeanour of this evidently successful corporate player and middle-aged womaniser. He has an edge of violence balanced with his smooth talking and courtesy. Sutherland gives Joanne the brittle, shattered look of the abandoned wife and her petite frame makes Joanne vulnerable and childlike. Her Northern accent gives her an alien quality that she accentuates to highlight the changes that time has wrought on her estranged husband.

Sam Strong’s production is claustrophobic, containing the actors in a set (Dayna Morrissey) that gives them barely room to dodge each other’s blows and verbal attacks. Strong keeps the pair jammed up against each other which accentuates their lack of intimacy by their desperate and dangerous proximity.

This play will leave you with clenched fists and holding your breath.

By Kate Herbert

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