Monday, August 24, 2009
Paul Charlton’s Crush tells a fairly familiar story. Anna and Sam are a young-ish married couple, both in their late twenties. Sam’s dreams after university didn’t quite pan out and the publishing business he hoped to set up never materialised. The sheen of the early days of their marriage is fading; they haven’t had much sex recently; their small habits are starting to irritate each other.
What makes Charlton’s play sit up in a meerkat fashion above the pack of basic relationship dramas is the way he astutely pins down the role the internet can play in people’s emotional crises, the outlet it provides for anonymous and supposedly consequence-free behaviour – the acting out of fantasies from the safety of one’s own home.
Except, of course, there are consequences. Real consequences: these actions reach through and beyond the world of the flickering screen of a laptop, touching and infecting people; the bet placed online is as real as one placed at a bookies, the Facebook fantasy can still hurt the woman you love.
Sam becomes obsessed with a young newly qualified teacher who he met briefly in his job as a book salesman. She fills his mind, this young pretty thing, in part because she looks not unlike his wife did a few years ago, or so he tells himself. Later at home, still thinking of her, he befriends her via Facebook and finds this allows him ample opportunity to sit staring at photos of her on the internet.
Anna, already subtly aware that in Sam’s eyes she has let herself go, discovers what he is up to and that damages her self-confidence and self-image further. She starts hitting the gym, taking dieting pills, obsessing over her body and the few extra inches she has gained since her wedding day. Sam is certain that he loves his wife, that he is happy with her, but he can’t shake a nagging sense of dissatisfaction with his lot and the internet provides a window an outlet for his frustrations, a kind of safe half-way space.
The play takes the form of several connected monologues with Sam and Anna taking turns to speak, him at the desk in his study, her at the gym. Both actors really seem to connect with the material. Neil Grainger’s performance as Sam is, for the most part, one of laddish amiability but a wave of utter despair and desperation floods out of him as the play nears its finish. Claire Dargo’s Anna is perky and sweat-sheened, peddling on her exercise bike, but an undercurrent of self-loathing soon becomes evident, a swamping sadness that her life and her marriage have ended up as they have.
Charlton’s writing is incredibly measured; both characters, for all their flaws, are very human and the way that they flit from worry to worry, talking themselves in and out of corners, is totally convincing and real. The final double revelation is slightly contrived and yet it still manages to end things on a suitably emotional note that echoes on as the performers take their bows.
Reviewed for musicOMH