This Much (Or an Act of Violence Against the Institution of Marriage) is a richly detailed and astutely written piece about the difficulty of being certain of what we want from our relationships. It confirms fears that the unravelling of our desires might lead to the unravelling of our identities. It is an extremely clever script that brings a strong and long-lasting emotional punch fairly late on in the play, and utilises a tight cast in an intimate setting to create a constant atmosphere of subtle tension.
The play opens as Gar, played brilliantly by Lewis Hart, indecisively browses in a corner shop and meets Albert (Will Alexander) who steals a packet of biscuits to impress him, soon leading him to question the validity of his feelings for his partner Anthony (Simon Carroll-Jones). But Gar’s irresolution about the life he wants to lead, or thinks he always wanted to lead, drags on. It is only when feelings have been really badly hurt that he finds the traction needed in order to act decisively.
The real strength of this play lies in its power to say large amounts through deceptively little; the most throwaway jokes Gar makes are some of his character’s most revealing moments and it is no wonder that in a play that telling us “it is about how we define ourselves: through objects, clothes” the use of props is highly intelligent and deeply meaningful. A Henry Hoover used by Anthony in moments of anxiety provides a grating audio backdrop for his and Gar’s strained domestic scenes and its increasingly frantic use accompanies his rising panic. A packet of hobnobs stolen by Albert at the beginning is a reminder of Gar’s infidelity and a sign of the damage inflicted on Anthony, who is later seen binging and purging on them in a cycle of hatred following the rupture in their relationship. Lastly, a DSLR used by all of the characters to take photos of themselves and one another at different points is a violent intrusion into each other’s privacy, and speaks clearly of their unifying obsession with the appearances of their lives. The set itself is a simple construction that is smoothly moved around and rebuilt – an authentic reconstruction of the detritus of their three interconnected lives. Its simplicity effectively draws attention to the expressive props and intelligent costuming.
It is due to the consistently strong performances from the three actors that the script’s very sudden transition to a state of semi-violence and chaos is so effective. The abrupt death of Gar’s father marks the point at which the façade of his life drops away and its troubling reality is laid bare. The destruction of all his relationships and Anthony’s painful self-destruction are equally tragic and uncomfortable: that Anthony is suddenly vomiting in the corner of the stage while Gar demands that Albert takes his cock out (before calmly suggesting a game of Scrabble) feels in some ways a surprise, especially in light of its humour. Yet it is a case of realising that the seeds for this darkness were there all along, only, like Gar, an audience member might have been distracted by the deceptively light appearance of things.
The play gives us a sincere reminder of what is at stake when lives and relationships are fumbled with, and it brings us this message along with gentle comedy and some truly charming and thoughtful choreography. It is a play that works on you slowly, but with great force when it does.
This Much (Or an Act of Violence Against the Institution of Marriage) is playing at the Soho Theatre until 2 July. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website. Photo: Pavel D