Hampstead Theatre, London – until 24 July 2021
Fittingly, Deborah Bruce’s play is set over the night the clocks change back. It’s about Time, its reverses and attritions; and being about loss and dislocation and domesticity, it is set in an empty rental house about to be sold. Some say that this tight, 80-minute three-hander tackles too many things at once – middle aged reawakening of old liaisons, the menopause, grief, haunting, student sexual accusations, therapy, parenthood and the unwisdom of defining yourself round sex. But hey, that is adult life. Hassles do not arrive neatly separated and convenient for the dramatic unities.
For Alex, who has pitched up at a university reunion thrilled to meet her once-casual boyfriend Jason and has brought a bottle back to his old university house, the wearing “assault” of a hard menopause is being aggravated. By a stale marriage, a husband reportedly too bored with it all even to have an affair, a son accused and sent home “under investigation” from university who doesn’t speak much, and a general sense of horror at being in her fifties and suddenly realising the world of “young bodies and lots of sex” is gone forever Claire Price beautifully deploys a staccato, nervy, overbright manner just this side of mania.
Jason (Bo Poraj) who appears more sorted, having ridden the 90s wave of software, marketing and branding and acquired a therapist wife and two daughters. He’s selling the old uni house now, it’s his wife who handles the letting. He mentions (top high-achiever clue) also an “Airbnb in Suffolk”.
Alex knows unnervingly much about his life from stalking him on Facebook, something he doesn’t bother with; she is too wound-up to take any heed of his present reality and guarded manner, even when he mutters that the social media pictures are out of date. I must admit that I spent the first 20 minutes admiring the chutzpah of a woman playwright willing to demonstrate, mercilessly, how unnervingly bonkers a menopausal woman can be.
I wanted Jason to run for the hills. I would. For she reminisces embarrassingly, flirts and drags out a narrative in which she alone rescued and shaped his sexual confidence so he “owes” her. She hisses the words “your WIFE” to sound like KNIFE, and demands a night of adulterous passion, having only pretended she has a hotel. Poor Jason shies like a nervous horse. We’ll know a bit more about why at the end, but meanwhile it is Alex who mesmerises us with her sheer needy awfulness. I mean that in as praise.
Then a teenage dea-ex-machina invades – an ex tenant having broken into the empty house because, as she gabbles (brilliantly, torrentially) she has fouled up her key arrangements and needed to crash. Alannah (Shannon Hayes) gets that bang on; when Jason flees upstairs to leave Alex on a floor bed, she crashes in again as excitable young adults do, and decides Alex must be his wife Raya – who has as landlady-therapist counselled her kindly on email after her father died. So here’s another unmanageable female (this is a brave playwright, God bless her) spilling out her feelings to the dumbfounded Alex under a misapprehension. She is not disabused, what with it being the middle of the night and Alex being half-loco herself. But she does get warned, with furious inaccuracy, that she should enjoy youth because “once the oestrogen runs out, it’s game-over”.
There’s a tremendous conclusion, a proper twist, a fourth character and delicate moment of real compassion. Roxana Silbert’s direction and some sensitive sound by Nick Powell are faultless. So by the end two women, one young one older, have made fools of themselves spilling every extreme feeling while a man has done himself harm by failing to share even a drop of it. They’ve all been intensely and messily human and all too recognisable. What more can we ask of theatre?
hampsteadtheatre.com 020 7722 9301 to 24 July