Friday and 3 hours 15 minutes on Saturday, a play that gets its themes across, in its understated way, in just over an hour is a welcome change. Jo (Kirsty Bushell) and Alex (Christopher Harper) are a couple whose marriage is suffering in the wake of a personal tragedy. Alex, a novelist, is trying to get back to work and back to normal, but is struggling with his current book. Jo, a barrister on extended leave, spends her mornings jogging but in the rest of her life seems to have lost all energy, she's unwilling or unable to shop for food and has decided that toast and gin are all the sustenance anyone needs. The two bicker and snap at each other, Jo seems repulsed by the very idea of Alex making a sexual advance, but the two also seem determined to keep their marriage going.
Enter Gloria (Michele Austin,) the ever-so-slightly sinister representative of a mysterious clinic that Jo has contacted without her husband's knowledge. She claims their company can help the couple, but they have to recapture the ability to be honest with each other again first. Colette Kane's I Know How I Feel About Eve takes a scenario that seems like it might not be that far from becoming true, to make for an interesting look at how different people respond to loss.
Polly Sullivan's set is a rather cold affair - lots of white and grey with clear plastic furniture, giving a feel of the clinic, while the jagged edges of the walls evoke something of the abrasive relationship between the couple in Lisa Spirling's well-judged production. Kane's story treads around the edges of what's going on for the first half of the show, giving clues from which it's pretty easy to put together what's happening, before making it explicit for the play's dénouement. It is, perhaps, a bit slight - I did feel that maybe there could have been a bit more development of the theme - but on the other hand it's very focused, telling a lot about the characters and their relationship before diving into the high concept.
Of course there's an excellent cast here helping this all come together - Kirsty Bushell's casting tends to be reason enough to book for a show and she doesn't disappoint. Her Jo is fragile in some ways and utterly unstoppable in others, her grief manifesting in often unreasonable expectations that the world stop being the same place it was before her loss. Harper is also very affecting as the husband trying to deal with his own loss while feeling under attack, but maintaining the impression that there's still love there under the constant fighting. And in the smaller role Austin gives an inscrutability to the outsider whose motives may or may not be entirely altruistic, but whose importance to the couple's recovery becomes apparent by the end - I'd even suggest the way things pan out was exactly what she was planning all along, hence some of the vagueness about how the process works.
So both in terms of its subject matter and the way the story's structured I Know How I Feel About Eve gives some food for thought. It could perhaps have been developed further, and I have a bit of a problem with plays that take their title from a particularly crucial line in the script (at some point it usually becomes very apparent that the title will come up and be important, and you end up waiting for it instead of it having its full impact.) But an interesting twist on the "be careful what you wish for" theme.
I Know How I Feel About Eve by Colette Kane is booking until the 23rd of February at Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.
Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.