Both Jonah and Sophie have had sheltered childhoods – he grew up as part of a rural religious community, she grew up on the Isle of Man – both lost a parent to cancer and are still dealing with the impact of that loss, both are now living alone in London, specks in a swarming city.
Sophie in particular worries that she may actually be disappearing, that this growing fir-cone feeling inside of her may be spreading and that people will soon no longer be able to see her. So by means of a camera and video monitor she invites Jonah – who lives in the flat below – to watch her, and in doing so she makes herself visible once more. Jonah meanwhile is the type of young man who takes this unusual offering in his stride: in fact it fills a need in him; he’s content to observe her from a distance, to share small everyday moments at a degree of remove. But as he their ‘relationship’ grows more intense and he starts to shadow her in public, to encroach on her space, he is in danger of breaching their unspoken pact.
The strength of Porter’s writing lies in its use of detail, its attention to specifics and its use of tonal juxtaposition. Joe Murphy’s immensely likeable yet shaded production benefits from two highly complementary performances from Harry McEntire and Rosie Wyatt in roles that seem tailored to their individual strengths as performers. With his neatly parted, Ken doll hair and his ever-hopeful, eager expression, McEntire conveys an aching sense of being slightly out of step with other people. His obsessive tendencies are made to seem very much part of the fabric of his character and he manages to make the kind of behaviour that might be alarming in others feel, if not exactly endearing, than an understandable response to complex emotional terrain. Wyatt in many ways has the slightly harder job: her character’s idiosyncrasies are much subtler, but her considerable charm as a performer – as witnessed in Jack Thorne’s Bunny, another nabokov production – means that she is never outshone.
In the beginning they each occupy their separate space on the moss-green, autumnal stage, seated at orderly metal desks, looking out at the audience as they relate their twin stories rather than at each other. The opening passages of the play are in part reminiscent of Daniel Kitson’s It’s Only Right Now Until It’s Later, but Porter’s writing veers off in a slightly different direction as the piece develops and they edge closer together.
There are times when the kookiness of the whole thing feels a little too engineered, the characters’ collage of quirks a little too contrived, but this is redeemed by a downbeat, melancholy ending. These two people probably can’t fix one another – perhaps no one can – but in their own way they can offer each other solace, which in this messy, all too often hostile, world might just be enough.
Reviewed for Exeunt