Duke of York's Theatre, London, November 9-January 5
Author: Nick Payne
Director: Michael Longhurst
Cast: Rafe Spall, Sally Hawkins
theatre's award season kicked off last Sunday with the Evening Standard
gongs, which rightly recognised this short, dazzling evening with a
prize for Best New Play.
Playwright Nick Payne's starting point is the oft explored idea that the
direction of our lives is dictated by a series of random events and
their consequences and that the tiniest difference in circumstance might
have sent things in a different direction.
So Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall play a couple meeting, coupling and
parting but at each key moment they play two or three alternative
outcomes demonstrating how even a change of nuance dramatically effects
life's course. The character's and audience's understanding
of this is enhanced by the fact that the woman has studied this
phenomenon and can comment lucidly on it. Perhaps the most startling
revelation comes early on when she reveals her studies show that free will is
never part of the equation. We are all then, moment
by moment, governed by circumstance.
You can't generate sexual chemistry between performers when it isn't
there - Lord knows, as a director I've tried - but this pair have it in
spades. The air positively crackles with sexual tension around them;
even in their darkest moments you feel they're about
to jump on each other, and what might have seemed little more than a
playwriting exercise benefits enormously from the duo's charisma.
There's excellent direction from Michael Longhurst, who keeps the
action fluid and fast moving, essential when a piece
is so reliant on repetition, and ensures the acting exhibits precision
and subtlety. As a result this is the sexiest, most believable coupling
you'll see on the London stage. Spall is seriously hot in a shambling
straight-boy way and Hawkins is so vulnerable
whilst also so funny and insightful that you'll want her as your BFF.
The show is just over an hour long, I wish it didn't tip into melodrama
towards the end, but it's so dazzlingly well performed by the two
actors, on a beautiful empty set framed by subtly shifting white
balloons, that no one could feel short changed.
**** (Four Stars) Great to see an intelligent play in the West End. Short and sweet but with plenty to ponder afterwards.