Without That Certain Thing
Reviewed – 27th February 2019
“full of exceptional elements and packed with potential”
Sullivan immediately notices Madeleine is out of place at a lesbian speed-dating event: obviously straight. When Sullivan calls her on it, Madeleine admits she’s only trying to throw off a guy who’s been following her. Intrigued, Sullivan listens as Madeleine explains she has no idea who he is, just that he follows her everywhere and leaves her love poems, signing his name ‘Swann’. Sullivan tells Madeleine she’s a former private investigator, and offers to take her case.
Without That Certain Thing, written by Rory Platt and directed by Chloe Christian is the debut play from Thank You Dark Theatre Company. The narration given by Sullivan (Phoebe Naughton) is a delightful parody of a film noir detective story. Platt’s prose plays with the familiar language of murder mysteries, and Naughton pulls it off with an adept sense of the rhythm and comedy. Platt savours words as passionately as the poetry-obsessed Swann. There’s some truly brilliant writing, so it’s a shame the script feels like a rough draft. The story needs clarifying and sharpening. The scenes need editing. What is clever and fresh too frequently gets bogged down by excess.
The premise itself is murky, and doesn’t really make sense. If you’re being stalked, you don’t pay someone £80 per day to chat with the guy. Sullivan brushes off the police by telling Madeleine the best she can hope for is a six-month sentence or a fine. The obvious objective of a restraining order is never mentioned. So instead Sullivan too spends the days talking to Swann to discover him as a person. She has no clear purpose or strategy. Because of this, the play feels adrift, the scenes meandering. We’re looking for Sullivan to be trying to solve the case. A twist at the end explains why she isn’t, but it doesn’t save the majority of the play from seeming aimless, which makes it feel very long. Even the most exquisite writing won’t save a story that doesn’t move.
But the direction and design are excellent. White tape squares on the stage subtly suggest different locations while also being reminiscent of chalk outlines. The movement is impressive – the performers effortlessly swirl from scene to scene: a flat, a street, the tube, an office, a park, etc. Christian makes an effective choice to keep Swann (Tom Macqueen) on stage throughout, lurking in shadows, but occasionally stepping in to hand someone a prop (an inspired bit of humour that works well). Naughton is in full command of her role, and is a pleasure to watch. Macqueen is outstanding as the disturbed and delusional Swann. Caitlin McEwan (Madeleine) is the blank canvas her character is meant to be.
Without That Certain Thing is full of exceptional elements and packed with potential. A sharp outside eye to edit and some further development could make it a first-rate show.
Reviewed by Addison Waite
Without That Certain Thing
Part of VAULT Festival 2019