White Bear Theatre
Reviewed – 9th February 2022
“With two fine performances and brisk direction from David Frias-Robles”
Like the piece itself, the title of David Persiva’s debut play is short yet deceptively clever. “Us” doesn’t just refer to the two unnamed characters on the stage, but also us in the audience. It is almost discomforting at times to realise how recognisable the dialogue is. We are the ones who are watching them, but it feels like Persiva has been the fly on our walls all along, collecting words, thoughts and emotions to create his jagged little two-hander.
It begins at the end and ends at the beginning, and in between it ricochets between the two. The flickering lampshades steer us from the past to present and back, each alternating scene seamlessly following on from the last yet existing years apart, literally and emotionally. A phrase repeated in a different time and context takes on a whole new meaning and it is a device Persiva uses to great effect.
The focus of the piece seems to fall on failed expectations. But this show digs wider and deeper as the two unnamed characters attract and repel in equal measure. Naoimh Morgan is ‘Her’ while Persiva plays ‘Him’; both adopting a naturalism and authenticity that almost feels improvised. Or to be fair, it’s simply true to life. Persiva appears to bear more of the highs and lows of this switchback ride while Morgan’s relative pragmatism controls the speed of the ride. She accuses him of forever falling into situations without enough proactivity, yet she repeatedly justifies her past misdemeanours by explaining that it was ‘just easier’.
The empathy we feel is aided by the detail of Maeve Reading’s set. Although we only see the living room, we can visualise what’s in the fridge, and we know who’s left the top of the toothpaste off in the bathroom. Which is what this is all about; the domesticity that shields the underlying issues is what “Us” is unpeeling. It’s never about the toothpaste really, so c’mon… what are you really saying? Despite the play’s honesty and insight, we do feel that we want to dig deeper. ‘His’ character certainly has more dimensions, with hints of mental health, that are begging to be explored further. This outing does sometimes have the feel of an early draft – which in itself is exciting as it gives the impression that we are witnessing a showcase of a longer, full length production to come.
“If you could start again knowing everything you know about me now, would you?”This is a dilemma which in real life probably rarely elicits an honest answer. Whether the characters in “Us” demonstrate more truthfulness is open to question, but Persiva’s writing has enough insight for us to re-examine ourselves. Like the title, the play is short yet deceptively clever. In sixty minutes, it explores the last half hour and the first half hour of a relationship, painting a vivid picture of the years between. With two fine performances and brisk direction from David Frias-Robles, this is a refreshing return to fringe theatre as it should be. Intimate, absorbing and up close. Away from the spotlight on how the next big new musical is coping post-pandemic, the White Bear – and other such theatres – have struggled too. And thankfully survived. Plays like “Us” will ensure that survival continues.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography Antony Popov & Teva McNeill
White Bear Theatre until 19th February
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