Ambassadors Theatre, London – until 24 March 2018
You don’t often, in romances, get lines like “Tomato ketchup’s always been my Achilles heel”. Or indeed proper consideration being given to the erotic potential of fish finger sandwiches. David Eldridge’s 100-minute two-hander won plaudits at the National Theatre and everyone had positive awe for Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton . But I was curious to see whether the messy, utterly naturalistic intimacy directed by Polly Findlay in the Dorfman would survive transplantation to even this tiniest of West End proscenium houses.
It does. In the back stalls under the overhang you certainly lose a few muttered lines, but not many. And the fascination of the real-time unfolding of a relationship holds you, as the tipsy, clumsy, lonely pair navigate the aftermath of Laura’s flat-warming party, cooling and warming (“I love a Scotch eggs!” “So do I!”) as they gradually reveal themselves and, as Danny puts it “clamber towards one another” as new lovers must. Especially new lovers a bit battered by life and failure.
Troughton, as the Essex divorcé, living with his Mum and his Nan and mourning for his marriage and distant child is remarkably skilled: not least at looking – until the end – a lot less attractive than he actually is, which is great acting.
A hopeless lump, you think sometimes, why would this pretty woman want him, even if she is 38 and a bit desperate for a baby? Mitchell in turn displays sometimes a brittle professional-woman sophistication and sometimes a howling, alarming neediness. The sexual politics of the evening are nicely reversed from the frequent cliché, with her the predator demanding sex and him more able to unfold his simple need for warmth, hugs, connection, family.
There are some huge laughs, brilliantly evoked by the physical clumsiness, the Dad-dancing from him and exaggerated bop from her at the slightly awful playlist from the party. And often too at his helpless, honest blokey bathos when she soars off into rom-com fantasy. And rarely has there been a more honest erotic exchange than – following each one’s admission that they don’t do cocaine – “I’d go a Ginsters with you” “I”d go a Ginsters with you too”. Beautiful.