Set inside an intimate yet stylish New York hotel room, Insignificance, written by Terry Johnson, takes us into the minds of a few of the most defining celebrities of the twentieth century. The Professor (Simon Rouse) quietly works on his equations, but is interrupted when none other than The Actress (Alice Bailey Johnson), decides to take refuge from her fans in his room. Discussing subjects such as The Theory of Relativity, this play is laden with delicious subtext and a sprinkling of philosophical musings.

Directed by David Mercatali, the actors are given the challenging task of convincingly playing a well- rounded version of timeless personas such as Einstein and Marilyn Monroe, and not simply a caricature. Bailey Johnson’s nuances in her sensual, confident portrayal of the character, is a joy to witness, and Rouse’s stoicism in the face of such outrageous circumstances perfectly contrasts said events, culminating in electric interactions between these actors and beautifully truthful performances. What is so interesting about each character is the challenging of their public personas; The Actress is not just a dumb blonde and The Professor is not afraid to stand up for himself. What begins as a comedic character in the gum- popping The Ball Player (Oliver Hembrough), then coldly unravels to reveal the relationship between him and The Actress, shining a light on how they perceive each other, and how they are perceived by the world, as these perspectives are vastly different. The same can be said when we are introduced to The Senator, played by Tom Mannion, because we are shown that, where someone’s actions are seen as patriotic, someone else can think of those same actions as ones of a traitor.

Designer Max Dorey creates an impressive space, with wall length windows framing the steel grated balcony outside and art deco furnishings festooning the very intimate playing space. Megan Rarity (costume designer) causes this audience member to look twice, as The Actress wears THAT dress, and The Professor wears his trademark moustache. The lighting design (Richard Williamson) subtly underpins moments of clarity and deep thought and little need for elaborate transitions keeps this powerhouse driving ever forward.

Heartbreaking and thought-provoking, Arcola Theatre’s Insignificance truly is an evening of intellectual ideas on the subject of existence, the cause and effect of the way in which we interact with our surroundings, and the concept of knowledge itself. It’s all relative.

Insignificance is playing at Arcola Theatre until November 18 2017.

Photo: Alex Brenner