MIKE BARTLETT’S OTHER NEW PLAY…
It’s played by a man – John Hollingworth – and a woman, Rachael Stirling. But it is not a love story, not that kind of love anyway. Indeed Mike Bartlett made a point of not naming the characters in this tight 80-minute two-hander, calling them A and B, and specifying that they can be of either gender, age and ethnicity. The point is that they’re friends.
And though these actors are of similar age, race and class, the interest of the piece as done here (Watford working once again with Paines Plough) lies partly in a certain rarity. For it is weirdly unusual to find playwrights anatomizing s sexless male-female friendships onstage. In an age of socially acceptable gender-blind mixing, there should be more of that.
The title invokes two kinds of intervention. In an opening scene Stirling – a teacher by profession, leaping around in a sort of dungaree playsuit and rarely without a glass in her hand, is more than a little drunk. She berates Hollingworth for not having come on an anti-war march. He, cautiously and moderately, supports armed Middle East intervention. Probably, right now, that means Syria, but it could be any of them. She thinks it is evil, fascist, murderous, and accuses him of growing a Hitler mosutache. He puts up with a lot from her: we learn that they have been friends for three years. She says “best friends”. Tellingly, he says “Only small children have best friends!”
The rapport between them is claimed strong, though it is clear that it is on the verge of crumbling: I could have done with seeing them have a bit more joy in one another at the start. Its erosion is being caused by two things: one is her drinking, which he sees is getting out of control; the other is her dislike of his new girlfriend. She may be right: the offstage Hannah sounds like a new age drip, and in some of his few guarded self-revelations, the man admits that he is retreating into domesticity out of certain insecurities, fuelled in part by the distant, harrowing war news.
On the other hand, he’s quite right that his platonic friend is heading downhill. She makes all the standard alcoholic excuses, even when she quits her job; she becomes an aggressive, uncontrolled bore (what the Germans delightfully call an “ich-bin-so”, claiming “I’m passionate, I’m Mediterranean!”). And she blurts out tactless condemnations of the invisible Hannah (“Bride of Satan! a nightmare! A class A horrrible person!”) and hilariously claims that she Facebooked all his friends who all agree she’s awful, “including your mother”. So he withdraws. And has a baby, and a home life, for a while.
But the moment for the other kind of intervention comes; and with nice irony Bartlett makes sure that his final chance to rescue his friend from drunken suicidal despair is triggered only by his own disaster. There’s a remarkable, rather nasty bit of staging involved, but it’s an effective metaphor. And I must say that Stirling’s performance all the way through is – well, sterling. She leaps, circles, yells, drains glasses, brags, berates, plays the harmonica with terrible despair. She’s both funny and awful, and anyone who has ever dealt with an alcoholic in denial will shiver in recognition.
Box Office 01923 225671 http://www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk to 3 May