Ryan Monk and Beth Dubow deliver stellar performancesJohannes Hjorth

Sitting in Pembroke New Cellars I can see three actors, dressed smartly, looking down, expressions blank. The play is about to start. I identify two door-frames in the centre of the stage as being potentially irritating for the next hour and a half (I was right). The audience is patient. The lights go down.

Jess (Beth Dubow) enters, sits on the edge of one of two beds (inexplicably the other went virtually unused for the entire play) and proceeds to swallow pill after pill. Xanax, we later find out. The suicide seems somehow unimportant. In reality, this turns out to be the weakest moment of an otherwise excellent play.

Beth Dubow and Ryan Monk, the two lead actors, both have shining moments throughout the play and deal with an incredibly challenging script admirably. Dubow’s Jess is bright-eyed and sparkly, with a child-like fascination and a wonderfully energetic imagination, all of which makes the opening suicide seem more tragic in hindsight. Her ending monologue is enthralling and outdoes the shaky start by a mile. Monk plays an honest, straightforward David whose ugly failings and selfishness revealed later in the play are just as believable as his sense of pride and caring instinct. Outside of the central duo, Avigail Tlalim is particularly strong as the sadistic sales company manager. The glint in her eye was captivating throughout and really lifted the whole show. The actors seemed to struggle with some of the extremities of the characters: the heights of anger, the depths of despair and the strange I’m going to lick the mole on your arm moment were far less shocking than they could have been, leaving potentially the most captivating moments of the script slightly awkward.

Make no mistake, the script is truly remarkable and the issues at hand are fascinating. It takes place in a world where the reality of life, love and pleasure can’t be constructed without money. Everyone yearns for a place where money is as meaningless as they instinctively feel it to be, but each of them acknowledges this as an impossibility. The resulting inability for the characters to reconcile belief with reality tears through the delineated progress of the play wonderfully.

As I was watching it, I felt myself wanting the actors and the stage to break out of the realism that had been imposed on the production. At times this happened, in a nominal way. For one scene the actors sit amongst the audience and address us directly in a surreal, Alcoholics Anonymous style exploration of how we all perceive debt and death. It felt like everyone in the room was part of the problem. However, I was left wanting more. The naturalistic set seemed out of place in a world where time was utterly fragmented. Elements like the extra bed and the doorframe abominations only served to add obfuscating clutter. The sound effects were similarly uninspired. The sound of a siren at the start of one scene felt frustratingly lacking in subtlety and most of the other sounds were pointless distractions rather than scene-setters.

Overall though, the play made me think more than any other I’ve seen this term and I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Brilliant script, some good acting, some forgivable directorial flaws. In short: go see.

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