National Theatre – until 14th November 2017
When the music stops and the lights click on, your first thought is ‘sweet Jesus what the hell went down at this party”? I thought twenty-year-olds were bad. These two late thirty/early forty-year-olds were knee deep in bottles, stubbed out fags, plates, streamers, scuffs, spills and no doubt smells. They’re the only ones left, and it’s her flat. It’s a housewarming which has noticeably cooled. But they’re staring at each other intensely.
David Eldridge’s new play is a tense, frustrating flirt. Laura and Danny (absolute champions Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton) don’t know each other but, over an hour and forty minutes, dig an incredibly intense relationship. Like 2017 Pinter the majority of their chat is bleakly familiar, but still somehow thumps you in the feels. The plot is nicely thin; two strangers lost in loneliness, edging closer to life’s dusty shelf, fall in something resembling love.
But Eldridge’s skill – also down to Polly Findlay’s incredibly naturalistic direction – is in quietly cranking up the tension then puncturing it. Sometimes you feel the dramatist’s direction a little too much, but for the most part, you can lose yourself in it. Towards the end, as they strip almost naked, kiss and desperately cling to one another, Danny (after a corking pause) asks if Laura could flip the heating on. Reader, we roared.
Troughton steals the show with his nervy, boyish and damaged 42-year-old Essexian. His drunken wobbles and neuroses are a photorealistic portrait. Theatrics have been parked. Mitchell’s too is a witty performance which nimbly negotiates the gags cracking into profundities.
My only hesitation about this play is that occasionally – and very briefly – the pace dipped and my interest slipped. And a few times Mitchell’s performance veered just far enough out of the outstanding naturalism into something a smidge stagey. Also social media mentions occasionally feel a bit stale and forced, but it is set in 2015 and don’t forget these characters aren skirting forty so….y’know.
But these gripes are slight. ad I not brought my pen and sharped my critical binoculars as is normally my way, this all would probably have passed me by. If you’re up for a bleak, honest, comparably brief manifesto for shaky late-love; strap in.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 to 14 November