Poison, written by Lot Vekemans and translated by Rina Vergano, has just two characters, who are waiting in a cemetery reception for a meeting regarding a deceased loved one. It appears that Vekemans aims to maintain the audience interest by revealing hardly anything at all at the beginning of the play, as it is down to the spectator to unpick the details presented to us, in order to unveil everything that is not being said, as that is where the real action takes place.
One thing we know almost instantly is that the characters (officially called He and She) have not seen each other in a significant amount of time, the awkward silences and uncomfortable small talk making this comedically evident. The difference in physical energy between Zubin Varla (He) and Claire Price (She) makes for interesting viewing, with Price almost bouncing off of the seemingly immovable Varla, with her conscious attempt to remain upbeat, considering the circumstances. Nevertheless, She is not a soft character, her real emotions bubbling to the surface increasingly so as the play goes on, as if He’s presence is chipping away at her well maintained public persona. The same can be said for He, who exudes a calm yet uncomfortable aura, which crumbles as these characters butt heads. The relationship between the two contains so much history, and under Paul Miller’s direction, the animosity is palpable, even after a long period of time passing since the last moment they saw each other. The characters still know how to push each other’s buttons, and pick at each other just as any two people who have had a long relationship would.
This is a truly intimate production of the originally Dutch piece, as it takes place in the round at the Orange Tree Theatre, with only two cushioned benches and a coffee table used as set furniture. From designer Simon Daw there is the addition of a coffee machine and a water cooler placed in two of the four corners, which enables the actors to use every inch of the space. Mark DoubleDay’s lighting design is deceptively simple, and along with George Dennis’ composition, it makes for stunning framing of the actors in the space.
Poison has moments of raw emotion as the topic of bereavement, in more sense than one, is discussed. There is an enormous amount of skill from the whole company in order to keep an hour and 20 minutes of just two people going, and at times, this play is a juggernaut of emotion.
Poison is playing Orange Tree Theatre until the 2nd December 2017. For more information and tickets, see www.orangetreetheatre.co.uk/whats-on/poison