Unfaithful written by playwright Owen McAfferty follows two couples. Tom (Sean Campion) and Joan (Niamh Cusack) are middle-aged, conservative and wondering if they let life pass them by. And Peter (Matthew Lewis) and Tara (Ruta Gedmintas) are young, liberal and keeping sex and love separate in order to enjoy life to the fullest. Tara and Tom are drinking alone one night in a bar when they get talking, and in response, Joan vengefully seeks out a male escort who conveniently turns out to be Peter. As these two couples’ paths cross in blundering attempts to hurt one another, they come to realise that what they really want is to provoke a reaction. To care.
Once the characters get a back and forth going, there’s a perfectly pitched rise and fall to McAfferty’s dialogue; tense moments linger, poisonous remarks sting and witty retorts arrive right on time. But more often than this, it feels as if McAfferty’s characters get carried away, wrestle the pen out of his hand and launch into monologues. On one hand, these become rather long-winded. I often found myself thinking, if the one half interrupted the other’s speech, their conversations probably wouldn’t escalate into wordplay warfare. On the other hand, it’s an apt illustration of these characters’ desperate attempts to liberate themselves and identify as autonomous individuals rather than one half of a relationship.
Cusack boldly carries her heavy monologues with strength and presence. However, Director Adam Penford allows the intensity of these moments to build to the point where her character begins to come across as larger than life in comparison to the more understated delivery of the other three actors. Sean Campion’s everyman is a sympathetic character the audience can easily connect to, Matthew Lewis understands how to command the stage without saying a word, and Ruta Gedmintas offers such complexity of character behind her forced smile.
Despite the naturalistic delivery, when the actors are not present in a scene, they sit visibly on the side lines in a neutral position until they are needed again. This Brechtian benching doesn’t contribute very much to the staging beyond quicker, easier scene changes and vague allusions to the theme of detachment. The black box space is sparsely decorated; a mirror backdrop, a very uncomfortable looking MDF bed and the occasional stool. But as the lights dim and Joan takes a long, hard look at the reflection of her body in the mirror at the end of the play, I can’t help but think this mirror could have been used more throughout. Particularly as the traverse stage highlights that depending upon where you’re sat, you will only be able to see either the actor or their reflection. The simplicity of the staging doesn’t give composer and sound designer, Edward Lewis, nor James Whiteside, lighting designer, much room to play with the aesthetics – arguably a missed opportunity to add another dimension to this fairly straight performance and lift the energy of the play.
Unfaithful is another play about love. McCafferty isn’t offering ground-breaking revelations on this eternally elusive subject, but it is a play that wears its heart on its sleeve performed in a suitably intimate venue, and leaves you thinking about what it means to love yourself in a relationship.
Unfaithful is playing at Found 111 until 8 October. For more information and tickets, see the Found 111 website.
Photo: Marc Brenner