A double bill from the pen of Martin Crimp is currently gracing the stage of The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond: Play House and Definitely the Bahamas, directed by Crimp himself – the first time he has taken the helm of his own work. Definitely the Bahamas was originally written as a radio play in 1986 and staged at The Orange Tree in 1987, and is about a middle-aged couple deluding themselves into believing they are living the suburban dream whilst the son whom Milly rhapsodises over is revealed as more and more unsavoury. Play House was newly written to go with the older play, and is about a young couple in their twenties setting up house together for the first time. Both plays are an hour long.
In Play House, the young people, Simon (Obi Abili) and Katrina (Lily James), undertake the everyday activities that make up living together. Simultaneously, they have conversations that run deeper than the everyday and express both their elation and joy at being together, and the dissatisfaction that arises from giving yourself wholly to a relationship with another person. The conversations begin as youthful philosophical ponderings but descend to earth in bitingly personal attacks.
Crimp beautifully captures the sadness that lives in hopeful uncertainty, the bi-polar nature of love, and how you can try to please someone with every ounce of your strength but end up hollowing yourself out.
Abili is such a natural actor, radiating warmth and honesty as the immensely likable, struggling Simon. I found James’s slightly stylised movements a little perplexing, and whilst she is no doubt a capable performer she appeared the weaker of the two. The pair had a palpable chemistry between them, making both their love and their hate believable in their fierceness.
Of Definitely the Bahamas Crimp says: “We’ve made a decision to stage the play as a live radio broadcast. The idea is that the audience is watching a live radio broadcast of the 1986 play Definitely the Bahamas taking place now in 2012 at The Orange Tree Theatre.” The three actors (Kate Fahy as Milly, Ian Gelder as Frank, Abili as a sound technician) sat in a triangular shape at desks with scripts and microphones with a further mic suspended in the air for James’s Marijke, who came on and off as she entered and exited the conversation. This set-up had its drawbacks; I could never see both Milly and Frank’s faces in the same glance, but had to watch their conversation tennis-style, which often meant missing one’s reaction to the other, especially annoying when they communicated without words.
With her hands on the table, leaning forward earnestly, Fahy’s Milly was both endearing and heartbreaking, as her love for her son renders her oblivious to his questionable, often despicable, behaviour as described by Marijke. Gelder and Fahy create a pitch-perfect comic double act, and a tragic picture of a couple bound by their own xenophobic suspicions and genteel closed mindedness.
Crimp’s ear for voices mean his dialogue is nothing short of sensational; rich and layered, it sparkles with everyday qualities of repetition, forgetfulness, misremembering. This double bill, witty,observant and displaying writerly finesse most of us can only dream of, makes for an enthralling, amusing and poignant evening.
Play House and Definitely the Bahamas are playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 21 April. For more information and tickets, see the Orange Tree Theatre website: http://www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/