“you’ll go and you’ll have a good time, but there’s not much of a lasting impression”
Since its inception in 2015, Four Play has more or less consistently had a production somewhere in London – a feat that usually only Shakespeare and Chekhov achieve. Does that mean Jake Brunger’s play is of the same calibre? Alas, not quite.
Four Play’s plot is kickstarted when Rafe (Ashley Byam) and Pete (Keeran Blessie), getting some serious FOMO from being each other’s only ever partners for the past seven years, proposition their friend Michael (Declan Spaine) to sleep with each of them to get all their anxieties out of their systems, which ultimately exposes the cracks in their relationship, as well as the jealousies in the supposedly polygamous arrangement Michael has with Andrew (Marc MacKinnon). The play gently touches on the idea of monogamy and whether the traditions of heterosexual relationships can simply be transposed onto homosexual relationships, although if you’re seeking a deep and nuanced exploration then look elsewhere; this is mostly frivolous stuff.
Brunger’s script is full of quips about labradoodles and your nan watching porn, and can sometimes feel like it relies on them a little too heavily to mask a lack of substance. This especially shows in what are clearly some updates to the references in the script – an exasperating gag about Apple TV stuck out as a particular offender. The writing does find moments of really juicy tension – a dinner party with all four characters was a notable highlight, in which Rafe and Pete try to maintain a lie that they’re unaware Andrew already knows is a lie. The script also moves at an excellent pace for the most part, although the final few scenes outstay their welcome a little.
The performances are also a mixed bag – Byam is radiantly energetic as Rafe but he and Blessie struggle to find chemistry, while Spaine’s aloofness teeters into an unengaged apathy a little too often. MacKinnon finds a lovely amount of depth in Andrew, with a standout performance at the aforementioned dinner party, and some very poignant moments with Rafe. The actors overall feel somewhat over-directed by Matthew Iliffe, resulting in an inauthenticity that makes it clear when someone’s been told to sit down or move across the stage or gesticulate in a certain way, which is a shame as Carrie-Ann Stein’s modern kitchen set design establishes a genuine domesticity so effectively.
Four Play ultimately feels like fast food theatre. Like a trip to McDonalds, you’ll go and you’ll have a good time, but there’s not much of a lasting impression and there’s nothing to really chew on.
“at times feels more like two characters reeling off their Wikipedia pages at one another for all the dramatic sinew it possesses”
Falling in Love Again achieves an impressive feat of time travel, as the supposedly more-or-less real time 70 minute play spans six hours. The more unfortunate bout of time travel is that this limp, one-note treatment of an immensely lucrative concept also feels about six hours long.
Set the night before Kind Edward VIII’s abdication, we’re taken on a journey of ‘speculative history’ by playwright Ron Elisha, who envisions what might have happened if the King of England (Ashton Spear) was visited by the then Queen of Hollywood, Marlene Dietrich (Ramona von Pusch). This is based in fact, as Dietrich did actually try to visit Edward that night, but was turned away, and so the thought of what could have transpired had they genuinely met is a tantalising one, in which Falling in Love Again tries to explore the impasses between love, duty, identity, and power.
Alas, ‘tries’ is the operative word in the above sentence, as the script totally lacks nuance. It’s never really clear what Dietrich’s motive for her visit is – she repeatedly tells Edward not to abdicate but doesn’t put forth any meaningful arguments, while also trying to seduce him at every turn for reasons that, again, aren’t clear. Edward, meanwhile, is determined to abdicate because of his love for Wallis, who he wouldn’t be allowed to marry while part of the monarchy, although the strength of his love is undermined by the fact that he’s consistently tempted by Dietrich’s advances. In the wake of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure from the royal family, Edward’s situation could’ve drawn provocative and poignant parallels but the script is instead confused and thematically bereft. Tonally bereft too, as it offers almost no tension, and very few laughs – it at times feels more like two characters reeling off their Wikipedia pages at one another for all the dramatic sinew it possesses.
However, Elisha’s script clearly has a lot of heart, which is more than can be said for Tama Matheson’s lifeless direction. There is a moment early on where Dietrich does something suggestive, then Edward stammers a bit and spouts some vaguely charming retort. This same beat is repeated over and over with no escalation and no sense of stakes for the entire play, giving the performance the sense that it’s deeply under-rehearsed, or that there was no attempt to mine the subtext of the script or develop some sort of forward-moving energy between the two actors. The newspaper-clad set suggests a man at odds with his identity, but Spear seems to struggle with the dichotomy of a man who we’re constantly told is a womaniser being at odds with his royal position and the love he feels for Wallis, and subsequently much of his delivery doesn’t ring true. On the other hand, von Pusch’s physical performance is dynamic, but it constantly feels like watching an impression rather than an embodiment of a character. The pair find a couple of sweet moments – an impromptu game of golf is a highlight – but they are desperately sparse.
Falling in Love Again takes a fascinating concept and produces meandaring, flat, shallow results. With a more developed script and deeper direction, it has real potential; until then, it’s excruciating.