Kenny Emson’s Rust has a hard time making the leap from page to stage. Sentences move precariously throughout, as if infirm – stilted and somewhat unsatisfying. Its characters too, are two-dimensional. Daniel (played by Jon Foster) and Nadia (played by Claire Lams), have just signed the lease – under a pseudonym, Mr and Mrs White – on their new studio flat. This is a place in which they convene every Monday to escape the drudgery of their respective marriages and parental responsibilities. A place where they can go about their affair in peace, away from prying eyes.
In this respect, Daniel and Nadia aren’t particularly likable. The cataclysmic effects of their meetings and illicit relationship are never met head on either. Rather, any potential difficulties are talked around, or left unsaid. Discomfort lurks around the edges of their conversations, making the action feel strained. “Fuck marriage” they cry, diving into an enormous pile of pillows. Designed by Max Johns, elements of stagecraft aid and abet Daniel and Nadia’s liaison; the devil lies in the detail.
Lit by fluorescent tubes, Foster and Lams bathe in the monotony of monogamy. Wedding rings glint on their fingers, now attached to hands more suited to home-breaking than home-making. Rust does make efforts to explore the connection between women and adultery, however. How historically, there is greater taboo attached to the female sex – particularly, if one is a mother. This is an interesting thread, but again, isn’t given enough attention. Instead, Emson leans on the stereotype of Nadia as neurotic, laying blame at her feet as opposed to neutralizing this age-old stigma.
Foster and Lams do well with the material, yet their chemistry feels deflated. In fairness, the narrative is slack – any attempt to create and maintain tension is lost amid the muddled plot. The play seems to end at its half-way point, which unfortunately only serves to diminish later instances of pain or trauma. The selfishness of their characters’ actions too, takes away the prospect of empathising or aligning oneself with their situation. What should be charged by their scheming, manipulative behaviour never quite manages to spark. Sadly, Rust feels worn, as though it has been left out for too long in the rain.
Rust played at Assembly Roxy until 25 August. For more information, visit the Assembly Festival website.