Sat on a bench on a raised concrete platform, a man and woman have their backs to the audience. A slight gap between the two, they are quite still, staring out of the window in front of them and bathed in the orange light of the street lamp outside.
Not having seen each other properly for over three years, Anne-Marie (Emily Barclay) and Michel (Sam Troughton) have come to a hotel bar in the town where they used to live. There to finalise their divorce, both appear to have moved on but question why each other came. The truth is that they never truly fell out of love with each other.
The combination of staging by Ultz and direction by Jeff James brings a great level of intimacy as this painful divorce is dissected. Whilst awkwardly conversing up on the platform, cameras in front of the actors closely record their faces, played live onto two large screens on their left. Regardless of how close they get to each other, they will still be on separate screens. Audience members flit between watching the fairly static body language of the actors in the distance, and the emotion that is seen in their eyes and facial expressions. Passion and pain are both palpable in this team of live performance and cinema.
In the second part of the piece, audience members form a boxing ring-like square in the studio space, within which the actors walk, sit and converse with each other. There is nowhere to hide for the characters in front of each other and for the actors in front of the audience. What once went unsaid can now be said between them, and questions that could never be asked now can. The play stays on one level throughout, without a huge climax or revelation, but Barclay and Troughton’s performances are gripping.
As well as the happy memories, the couple reflect on the many mistakes made within their marriage: the infidelity, the lack of communication or honesty and the influence they let other couples have on their decisions. If they had never moved into the house and remained as lovers flitting between different hotel rooms and bars, would they have stayed happy? It appears that the desire and love they had for each other was not enough when the weariness of everyday life came knocking. What is deeply sad is that upon meeting again, they realise they may never get rid of the painful memories of their damaged relationship. Ultimately, they have to part ways but there is a sense that their story will never truly be over.
La Musica is playing at the Young Vic until 17 October. For more information and tickets, see the Young Vic website. Photo: David Sandison.