JAB at the Finborough Theatre
“a lot is packed into this emotionally raw production”
There are two trains of thought about the pandemic. One that it is still too raw to explore in dramatic form; the other that it is old hat, and nobody wants to hear any more about it. But remember it, we all do. James McDermott has distilled those memories into a unique two-hander that follows the breakdown of a relationship, and of society, in tandem. The personal and the panoramic are mirrored effortlessly and it is impossible to remain unaffected by McDermott’s writing.
Anne (Kacey Ainsworth) and Don (Liam Tobin) are approaching their twenty-ninth anniversary, having long reached the comfort zone of the ‘can’t-live-with-you-can’t-live-without-you’ phase. Affection and irritation go blithely hand in hand; one minute dancing uninhibitedly to the Eurythmics ‘Sweet Dreams’, spilling wine and laughter in equal measure; the next bickering with jabs that often pierce uncomfortably deep.
From the order to ‘stay at home’, we follow the pair through the next twelve months. The pandemic itself is initially a backdrop to the minutiae of a marriage, but inevitably it draws in like a rising tide cutting off any escape route. Director Scott Le Crass keeps the actors within this frame of claustrophobia. Like caged animals they pace, sit, stand. Repetitive and functionless. Don at first feels safe. His vintage shop business wasn’t going so well anyway. Anne is twitchier, forced to work from home instead of being on the NHS frontline. She is tired of being the breadwinner, tired of her hot flushes and tired of “non-essential” Don.
“a compelling black comedy”
Although we know that’s not entirely true. Ainsworth is a master performer, eking out the nuances of her layered character. Each word, gesture and expression ring true. Tobin has a similar grasp of realism. They both make the stark shifts of mood believable. We recognise this couple. We are drawn into their individuality, but it is their inter-dependence that has us in an emotional stranglehold right through to – and especially during – the final scenes.
There are many scenes that take us there. Some short, some long, some dark, some light, some wordy, some silent. Jodie Underwood’s lighting slices between them while Adam Langston’s staccato, filmic music stabs at the transitions with Hitchcockian chill. The lights gradually dim in line with the subject matter as the action unfolds, and the comedy ebbs and makes way for the darker hues.
There is an extraordinary attention to detail. Anne’s password, we learn, is ‘cagedbird’. The transition from drinking from a glass to drinking straight from the bottle. Don tearing up his invitation to be vaccinated. The bursts of the optimistic, upbeat Eurythmic music fade into the scenes on certain lyrics: ‘some of them want to abuse you…’, or ‘when depression starts to win…’. These subtleties add poignancy and potency to Ainsworth’s and Tobin’s already powerful performance.
In a little over an hour, a lot is packed into this emotionally raw production. The words crackle with meaning, but so do the silences. “Jab” is a compelling black comedy. I definitely urge you to catch it (words I probably wouldn’t have chosen during the pandemic).
JAB at the Finborough Theatre
Reviewed on 23rd February 2024
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Steve Gregson
Previously reviewed at this venue: