Reviewed – 1st August 2018
“time has not been kind to Penelope Skinner’s slight four-hander”
Four young people in two flat shares in London: Cassie, a committed feminist activist, shares with Rose, a sweet hippy-dippy type; Mark, doing well in the marketing world, shares with his old University buddy Tim, who’s a bit of a waster. At the play’s opening, Mark wakes up in the girls’ flat after a night with Rose, and encounters Cassie, who is almost immediately triggered into launching into an angry feminist tirade at him, which, who would have guessed it, gets Mark going something rotten, and, he eventually manages to seduce her, using exactly the same tactics he used on the unfortunate Rose. What a snake, hey? At the play’s close, Mark ends up alone, Cassie experiencing her womanhood in an entirely new way, and Rose pretty much entirely dependent on the hapless Tim, who has finally managed to let go, both literally and figuratively, of his dead Grandma.
If this sounds pedestrian and predictable, it’s because it is. Time has not been kind to Penelope Skinner’s slight four-hander, and its handling of gender politics seems unbelievably clumsy and cliché-ridden in 2018. A lot has happened in eight years. That being said, a prickly feminist who likes to be dominated in bed was satirical stock-in-trade in the 70s – which makes the decision to revive this piece now all the more difficult to understand.
Although the writing is decidedly creaky, the dialogue is nonetheless sprinkled with whippy one-liners, and there are a couple of big theatrical moments to play with. Sadly, neither the acting nor the direction in this production was good enough to take advantage of these strengths. The direction was as pedestrian as the plot, and as a result the piece lacked both colour and drive. Why, oh why, were both the big moments visually masked? One by a strobe; the other by a barely lit stage? Penelope Skinner wrote the fellatio scene in to her play for a reason. It is the audience who should be squirming here; not the director.
Joseph McCarthy managed to lift Mark off the page, but the other characters remained resolutely one note and failed to breathe beyond the boundaries of their stereotype. Seldom has there been such unconvincing smoking on stage, or a more laughable slap in the face. And there was certainly nothing erotic about the central seduction scene. In addition, the intrusive and badly-managed sound design only underlined the production’s overall lack of atmosphere.
Eigengrau is ‘the uniform dark grey background that many people report seeing in the absence of light’. It is a strange title for a piece of theatre, but, in this particular case, peculiarly apt.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Victorine Pontillon
Greenwich Theatre until 11th August