Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mydidae, Soho Theatre

Marian and David are a couple who are comfortable in each other’s company. She wonders around their stylish white bathroom in a faded Minnie Mouse T-shirt and a pair of turquoise knickers while flossing her teeth; he takes a long luxuriant piss in her presence. But the bathroom is a place of exposure and vulnerability – a place where people go to cleanse, to purge, to void – and it soon becomes clear that the couple’s seeming ease with one another is only superficial, that something dark and turbulent swims beneath.

Mydidae is a play written to fulfil a particular brief. Jack Thorne was tasked to create a play set entirely in a bathroom by the production company DryWrite, an exercise with shades of Oulipo: liberation through restriction. By narrowing his viewfinder in this way, Thorne has created a two-hander full of unexpected menace that probes and chips at its characters, peeling back layers of skin.

It’s not much of a surprise to discover that these two have lost something precious – Thorne drips that in early – it’s the aftermath of this loss he’s really interested in. Marian and David act out the little routines of domesticity, they fulfil their allotted roles, but there’s a hollow quality to their relationship, an absence. A would-be romantic candle-lit bath – complete with cabernet sauvignon and a shimmering mirage of tea-lights – reeks of cliché; it’s David’s attempt to convince himself that things are still as they were, that they can be again.

Performed on Amy Jane Cook’s fully-plumbed set, complete with working bath, sink and loo, the production has faith in flesh. Its use of nudity is genuinely exposing. Stripped of their clothes and neck-deep in the bathtub, there is nowhere left for Marian and David to hide, from each other’s accusing eyes, from the twisting of their own pain: their hate comes frothing to their surface; love and rage intersect and overspill.

Vicky Jones’ production delivers one brutal, awful jolt; like a shark surfacing, great white teeth bared, it rears up from the deep. Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Keir Charles handle the play’s shifting emotional tone incredibly well, effortlessly moving from the jokey, casual, almost mundane feel of the opening to the much more complex terrain of the play’s mid-section, occasionally pausing in their actions, as if caught off-guard by memory. Their nakedness is beautifully utilised too: the production revelling in the vulnerability of skin, damp and gleaming in the candlelight, the fine line of the spine, the unintentional comedy of the sheepish penis.

Both performances are incredibly measured. Waller-Bridge has a crisp, confident manner that conceals a seam of fragility, but it’s Charles’ unnerving, unblinking stare as he faces her across the bathwater – as he looks at her, into her, through her – that leaves the most lasting impression.

Thorne is adept at creating an undercurrent of unease, an incremental build-up of tension – he’s a master of what John Irving termed the undertoad – and even when Mydidae doesn’t quite ring true psychologically (it’s difficult to believe that this couple’s submarine feelings haven’t surfaced before), it’s still a potent piece of writing. While not quite as devastating as Simon Stephens’ Sea Wall, a play with which it shares some thematic overlap, in its most charged moments it still slices fairly deeply.

Reviewed for Exeunt.

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