A play about the aftermath of a terrorist attack (which is what the ‘single act’ is in A Single Act – the fact that there is no interval is neither here nor there) may seem too much of an uncomfortable experience for some, so let’s make this clear at the outset. This show is not for the faint-hearted.
That the play gives little detail about what the terrorist attack involved, aside from mention of snow, a huge dust cloud forming from the collapse of buildings, the many fatalities and a substation that was directly hit, causing a power surge across a large urban area, is helpful. For to write specifically about the weeks and months after September 11, 2001 would be to set the play at a particular time and place with all of the economic and geo-political issues surrounding it. Here, A Single Act is able to zoom in on its four characters and how they respond to such a critical incident.
If anyone’s seen Jason Robert Brown’s musical The Last Five Years, the stories of the two couples featured, Scott (Tom Myles) and Michelle (Lucy Hirst), and Neil (Philippe Edwards) and Clea (Katherine Stevens), use the same style of storytelling inasmuch that we start with Michelle leaving Scott – their story is told in reverse chronological order (rather like Harold Pinter’s Betrayal), while Neil and Clea’s story begins at, well, the beginning. It therefore takes some work – partly unnecessary, I thought – on the part of the audience, because as soon as the audience is just really getting into one couple’s story: wham! Scene change!
The stage area was larger than I expected, and the cast utilise the space available well – perhaps a little too well. Where two characters are standing at a distance at opposite ends of the front room or bedroom (or whatever room the scene happens to be in), it was like being at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. There’s two people having an argument and my neck is going from side to side with the dialogue.
Scott, I think, was the most complex character, at times very loving of Michelle and at other times unpleasant, and even physically abusive. It’s worship and torture, torture and worship. Tom Myles acts out both styles with equal conviction. We do not see violence; rather, an incident in a supermarket is told by Clea in a conversation with Neil, where she saw Scott and Michelle (without knowing who they were, mind you). Michelle wanted to buy some pasta. For whatever reason Scott wasn’t having it, but when his back was turned she put pasta in the shopping trolley. This was, in Clea’s words, “a single act of defiance”. But Michelle paid for it: Scott struck her in the supermarket so hard she almost went down.
We see a scene when Scott and Michelle get home from grocery shopping. He is like one of those psychotic EastEnders characters. A chair goes flying. Four letter words are used every second breath. In an earlier scene – which, as I say – is actually a later scene – Scott gets Michelle a pet rabbit. (No gasps and ‘awws’ from the audience in this show: the rabbit is not actually seen.) Scott wants to call it Stu, as in “our rabbit Stu”. But Michelle doesn’t want a rabbit. Well, she did, when she was ten. It’s an attempt to treat her like a ten-year-old, seeing as controlling her by physical force failed to ‘work’.
Neil, on the other hand, while not abusive, is also irreparably damaged. He starts going out for walks and strikes up conversations with friends and relatives of some of the victims whose lives were cut short by the terrorist atrocity. Clea is understandably upset when it transpires that he has continued to leave the house in the morning as though commuting to work, complete with photographer’s camera bag, but when she called his office she is told Neil is no longer employed by that company. He is very withdrawn, and it starts with an inability to climax at intercourse but gradually the problem becomes much wider, to the point where he is no longer able to enjoy the company of longstanding friends at a party. Clea tries and tries to persuade Neil to resume some semblance of normality. It is heartbreaking.
The music is by Ólafur Arnolds, who also composed the music featured in the National Theatre of Scotland’s recent production of Let the Right One In. Some of the scene change dance and choreography was indicative of that production too, and while it is of course necessarily to ensure a smooth transition between scenes as furniture flies about and the stage is quickly transformed, I’m not wholly convinced the choreography added much, if anything, to the story. Perhaps it wasn’t meant to. Perhaps it was meant to allow the audience to ‘breathe’ after each scene.
The audience condemns domestic violence, as it rightly must. However, A Single Act allows audiences the room to consider the idea that it takes two to tango. We do not pity Michelle’s suffering so much as applaud her decision to leave – for good.
What is most remarkable about this play is that it is not in any way ‘preachy’. There is no attempt to place judgement or blame for the situation in which any of the characters find themselves in. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder comes in different forms, and it is refreshing to see a production that handles just some of its variant expressions so sensitively and convincingly. I remain uncomfortable taking a cast’s youth into account. It doesn’t matter in this case. While acknowledging there is a maturity beyond their years in their acting, their performances are excellent regardless.
The show is not as shocking as it is subtle, and yet extremely powerful. It is a worthy attempt at exploring what can happen to people who have been directly affected by the death and destruction of a mass act of terrorism. If anything, it underlines the simple truth that it is not a sign of weakness to admit you’re struggling. Well worth seeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
DUELLING PRODUCTIONS present A SINGLE ACT by Jane Bodie
ONE Political Event. TWO Couples. FOUR Trajectories.
In a world surrounded by the continual fear of terrorism and the speculation that surrounds it, Jane Bodie’s play which debuted at The Hampstead Theatre in 2005, places us at the epicentre of two relationships after an unspecified urban terrorist attack. Bodie explores the human condition and the varying forms of deterioration following such catastrophic events.
188.8.131.52 June (7.45pm)
20 June (2.45pm)
Director – Jamie Manton
Producers – Alexandra Tildesley & Jon Usher
Movement- Jasmine Ricketts
Costume Designer – Sarah Pearson
Stage Manager – Amy Squires
Assistant Stage Manager – Paige Evans
Tech Manager – Dan Jones
Wednesday 17th June 2015