HOLLY WIL­LIAMS SHOW Of tHe Week

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - THEATRE -

Park Theatre, Lon­don Un­til Nov 24, 2hrs 15mins

Amid­dle-aged, mid­dle-class cou­ple – he a tow­er­ing fig­ure in jour­nal­ism, she a writer who’s not pub­lished for decades – ap­pear to have a com­fort­able, rock-solid mar­riage. Then along comes a bright, beau­ti­ful, am­bi­tious writer half his age, to in­ter­view him for a book.

What hap­pens next will sur­prise no one: he leaves his wife for the younger woman. What’s more sur­pris­ing is that this 1995 play by Aus­tralian writer Joanna Mur­ray-Smith is be­ing re­vived: al­though brought up to date with a sprin­kling of 2018 ref­er­ences, from bit­coin to Brexit, the story feels old-hat.

Mur­ray-Smith does smartly clash two strains of thought on love and sex in a mar­riage: for the wife, ‘pas­sion is partly know­ing who the per­son used to be’; for the hus­band, ‘his­tory kills pas­sion’. But while there are winc­ingly sharp lines through­out, they rarely sound as if they come out of the mouths of real peo­ple.

Un­der Paul Robin­son’s di­rec­tion, the three spar­ring word­smiths come across as ei­ther im­prob­a­bly in­sight­ful or just mind-bog­glingly in­sen­si­tive. Who man­ages to be epi­gram­matic when seized by lust or rage? And com­pli­ments clang rather than se­duce; if any­one told me I had a ‘rav­ish­ing mind’, I’d laugh in their face rather than fall into their arms. In fact, the truest emo­tions are found at mo­ments of inar­tic­u­lacy; the cou­ple’s aca­dem­i­cally un­der­achiev­ing daugh­ter (Na­talie Simp­son) per­ceives her­self as lack­ing, but at least she can feel some­thing. The cast, to their credit, of­ten peel back the skin of the char­ac­ters to find some­thing raw. If Henry Good­man seems a bit too pa­thetic even for the midlife-cri­sis-rid­den Ge­orge, Katie Bray­ben plays driven young lover Clau­dia with an acid­ity and fo­cus that burns. Imo­gen Stubbs is the ditched wife Hon­our, a self-scar­i­fy­ing mar­tyr who learns to value her­self again. She’s the most fully fleshed, and Stubbs is warmly watch­able even as Hon­our watches her life fall apart. She also finds some ease within Robin­son’s choice to stage the play in the round. Liz Cooke’s cloud­coloured set is bare ex­cept for a few boxes. But this play is so specif­i­cally sit­u­ated in a world of mid­dle-class houses stuffed with books and wine that it seems a bit lost without all that. As do the ac­tors, who tramp about the stage, oc­ca­sion­ally kick­ing boxes, but clearly more driven by sight­lines than char­ac­ter mo­ti­va­tion.

Imo­gen Stubbs as Hon­our with Henry Good­man as Ge­orge. Be­low: Katie Bray­ben as Clau­dia

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