Reviewed – 5th November 2019
“With a touch more dramatisation this would lodge itself in our hearts as well as our heads”
It would be interesting to know if one’s reaction to a play like “Endless Second” would be affected by not knowing the gender of the writer. It is difficult to avoid, with a play that explores the breach of consent within a relationship, the fact that this is by a male writer. Theo Toksvig-Stewart, however, manages to outstep the stereotypes with some subtly balanced writing that weighs up the controversy with a sensitive and moral neutrality.
Two characters, known simply as M and W, meet during freshers’ week at Drama College. Their relationship develops into a conventional love story and in the haze of young passion they go through the motions: day trips, evenings out, shared friendships, meeting family, the occasional holiday. They are compatible and respectful. M is outwardly the epitome of the modern liberal feminist. But one evening, in an alcoholic blur, W says ‘no’. M pays no heed. The following day, in the fog of a hangover, they have sex again. Life for a while seems to go on. Yet everything has changed.
Cut the Cord, a London based theatre company, focuses on new Nordic writing that questions what it means to be human. In “Endless Second” they tackle the subject of sexual assault within a consensual relationship. In our #MeToo, post-Weinstein climate the general mood is that there are no grey areas, but Toksvig-Stewart demonstrates otherwise. Through this ambiguous, twilight zone M and W tread carefully. It is a slow dance on broken glass that, as the rhythm quickens, will ultimately cut deep.
Toksvig-Stewart as M and Madeleine Gray as W give energetic and natural performances. Up close in the studio space at the Pleasance, Gray’s skill at demonstrating a sea of emotion in a split-second facial tic comes to the fore. Initially skirting the issues, she repeats the classic leitmotif of “I’m fine” so evocative of those in denial. M’s denial is of a different nature. As the performers circle the stage the questions in our minds spin at a faster rate. They are dangerous questions – we find ourselves asking whether being the perpetrator is as damaging as being the victim. W is the accuser but insists that M play the role of comforter as well as culprit. These questions are among many others, and the shades of grey darken until the word ‘rape’ is finally used.
Toksvig-Stewart takes no sides. The performers narrate their stories from their own perspectives and director Camilla Gürtler skilfully knows where to place them in the space, like a tarantella. The characters come together either for the kiss or the bite. Yet the technique is often in danger of overshadowing the empathy, and despite the commitment and investment of the cast, the overall feel of the piece is that of an exercise or a drama showcase. It certainly hits on an intellectual level and raises many important questions but an emotional connection with the audience is sometimes lacking.
A bold piece that triggers debate and succeeds in its aim in making us think about the issues of consent, responsibility and assault. But therein lies its fault. With a touch more dramatisation this would lodge itself in our hearts as well as our heads.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Pleasance Theatre until 7th November
Previously reviewed at this venue:
Heroin(e) For Breakfast XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX | ★★★★★ | November 2019