Take two strangers trapped in a broken lift, then remove all of their external references, ability to communicate outside of their box and, most importantly, their ability to measure time and say welcome to Jason Hewitt’s Claustrophobia at the Hope Theatre Islington.
It’s a pretty normal day and two people are in a lift together. Rachel (Natasha Pring) is on her way home after doing the shopping and Aidan (Michael Cusick) just wants to go to the top floor. Unfortunately, the lift has stopped. Initially irritated, Rachel tries to contact the outside world to get some assistance. Guided by Aidan, she pushes the emergency button but nothing happens. She tries again and still nothing happens. She and Aidan shout through the firmly closed doors but get no reply. Whilst Aidan remains infuriatingly calm – believing that eventually someone will come and rescue them – Rachel becomes more frantic. She taps her foot incessantly, fidgets, can’t sit down – especially after Aidan tells her some of the things that happen in lifts – but also can’t stand still. Thanks to the limits of phone technology, not only can neither of them get a signal to contact anyone, eventually their phone batteries flatten and now they have no way of measuring time, except by their own heartbeats. The longer they remain trapped in the lift, the more they get to know about each other and even themselves as their thoughts and dreams merge into the reality of their situation.
I have to say, I knew that Claustrophobia was going to be an impressive show as soon as I walked into the auditorium and saw the two actors stood frozen on the centrally placed stage where they remained until the entire audience was sat. The ability to just stand for that length of time – audiences really should get to their seats quicker – was pretty impressive in itself and a wonderful idea from Director Sharon Burrell as a way to grab the audience as from the start. The play itself is really well written, starting off very gently and then seventy minutes later sending home an audience that have really been through the emotional wringer. The recurring phrase – “We could do whatever we like in here and no one would ever know.” “Apart from you and me” – has haunted me since last night with its myriad potential meanings that could have taken the play in a hundred different ways. Don’t get me wrong, although Claustrophobia is an intense piece of writing, there is a lot of really nice humour in there as well which ensures that the audience aren’t completely overwhelmed by the story.
The two actors in Claustrophobia are superb in their roles – so much so that I would honestly have hated to be stuck in a lift with Rachel for more than five minutes, wow that lady is irritating! Some lovely acting there from Natasha. Aidan, I think is more complicated. Whilst appearing outwardly very calm and collected throughout, there are some wonderful little ticks, such as the regular removal and examination of till receipts from his wallet, that suggest things below the surface are not all that they seem. Once more, some really great acting bringing the character to life from Michael. By the end, I knew both Rachel and Aidan and believed in them as individuals in their own right.
Overall then Claustrophobia is a great theatrical show which surprised me in the most wonderful way. Not only did it get me to care about the people stuck in that lift but it also made me think about what I would be like if everything I have around me to enable me to be me was taken away, and I was trapped in a small metal box with a total stranger.
Review by Terry Eastham
Claustrophobia: The Hope Theatre
writer: JASON HEWITT / director: SHARON BURRELL
17 November – 5 December 2015
Tuesday to Saturday 7.45pm
‘We could do whatever we like in here and no one would ever know.’ ‘Apart from you and me.’
A woman. A man. Trapped.
Isolated from the outside world, games and fantasies blur into memories neither wishes to confront. Claustrophobia puts relationships under the microscope and asks – “what does it mean to be in control?”
Punctuated with moments of humour and tenderness, this minimalist production is a haunting psychological thriller making its London debut after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe 2014.
The Hope Theatre
207 Upper Street, Islington, London N1 1RL