For the second time in a fortnight, I find myself in the Pilch, sat in the round, looking at a stage littered with random, domestic-feeling clutter. This style of play seems to be in vogue at the moment; and it is not without its merits. The effect of this is to very competently reflect the chaotic and troubled relationship between the two characters in Martin Crimp’s Play House, adapted in this production to be centred around two women.
Play House is divided into several scenes, vignettes of the relationship between the two characters, but it was difficult to see what relation they bore to each other, temporally or emotionally. By the end of the play, the actors were producing something like the requisite emotional pitch, but there was little sense of emotional continuity between the scenes. Indeed, one of the final scenes sees Simona speaking about another relationship, and using it as a vehicle to discuss the problems with her own. This is conveyed skilfully and with a startling intensity by Imogen Boxall, although the key flaw remains that none of these problems have been visible to the audience. Very little reason is given in the performance for the characters behaving the way they do: their motives, if they exist at all, are obscure. Nevertheless, the individual scenes themselves were entertaining and intriguing. Good use was made of the set, and the music helped, on the whole, to create atmosphere and delineate scene changes.
Definitely the Bahamas was, on the other hand, a consistently funny and coherent piece of theatre. Strong character choices were made and committed to by both actors – Susie Weidmann’s Frank in particular was an exemplary exercise in physical acting. Undoubtedly it is a stronger script, and the characters are perhaps more caricatures, but nevertheless both the performances and direction were much stronger in this section of the double-billing. One oddity: it was clear that the in-the-round configuration suited Play House (in which the whole stage was used) much better than Definitely the Bahamas. In order to serve the configuration, the actors repeatedly swapped where they were sitting, but there was no internal logic to these movements. However, against the strength of the performances in this half, this was a minor flaw. Unlike in Play House, where the dynamics and narrative of the relationship were obscure and unexplored, Boxall and Weidmann presented them here clearly and compellingly; and not only that, but also the flaws in their own characters. Particularly lifelike was Boxall’s Milly, whose self-importance and narrow-mindedness visibly drove everything she said, underpinning skilfully the dramatic irony in the text.
The problem of changing from one play to the other, without an interval or blackout, was one Lawrence dealt with very competently, by having her actors alter their costumes and behaviour in muted, coloured lighting, on stage. There is some skill in correctly choosing the moments at which to reveal the mechanics of theatre to an audience, and Lawrence has chosen them well. Watching the actors become the second pair of characters contributed to the force and strength those characters had; there was a sense in which the terms of the performance had been defined. The combination of plays together was interesting too, as was the choice to change the male character in Play House to a female one but maintain the original gender of Frank in Definitely the Bahamas: Lawrence’s intentions here were not entirely clear, as far as they relate to the themes of the texts, though no particular harm was done by this choice. Overall, the plays made an entertaining pair; but my lasting impression is that Definitely the Bahamas was definitely the better of the two.