Trafalgar Studios 1, London – until 5 November 2016
In a powerfully devastating and unrelentingly humorous look at the dark and unspoken truths manifest in the psyches of men and women after decades spent together in a relationship, the double header of Steven Berkoff’s Lunch and The Bow of Ulysses at Trafalgar Studios is gripping theatre that will possibly provide less than comfortable cab rides home for some of the couples in the audience.
Starting with Lunch, the audience is introduced to the plays’ only characters played by Emily Bruni and Shaun Dooley, on a beach (outstandingly minimalist and effective set design from Lee Newby) and portrays the raw passion, emotion, insecurities and yearning that comes during those first moments of courtship – that first night, week, month are frequently referenced – between two eventual life partners. Bruni and Dooley create a stand out chemistry that offers a profound fluidity to the show.
Fast forwarding from that initial encounter on the beach, the audience are presented with their second course, the Bow of Ulysses. Transported through the rabbit hole of reality, mundanity and time itself the two characters are 20 years older, with Nigel Harman coaxing a harrowing contrast in tone, performance, humour and light heartedness.
It is undeniable how time and life has transformed the pair, but without special effects (or even makeup), just a change of coat and a tying up of the hair, the deliverance of this clear passing of time by just their stage presence is a credit to the performers.
Berkoff is clearly an equal opportunities writer as he points out the numerous and apparent flaws of both sexes. We see his characters launch consecutively devastating attacks on each other in the form of mini monologues with cross hairs aimed solely at the inadequacies of the other, each more brutal and razor sharp than the last.
Ringing throughout the evening is a scorching reality in both script and performance. The production acts as one giant mirror, compelling the audience to look in horror yet all the while wearing smile as they enjoy the and enjoying the show’s potent dark flavours.
To call the plays uncompromising in their articulation of people’s need for companionship and all the wonderful and stark flaws of our species would be an understatement. Whether you walk away from this play electrified or shaken, there is an undeniable honesty in Berkoff’s masterpiece.
Runs until 5th NovemberReviewed by Josh KempPhoto credit: Marc Brenner