Saturday, 3 August 2013

Theatre review: Skin Tight

The new Park Theatre has two houses named, in the spirit of endless invention and theatrical wonder, after the amount of people they can seat. So the smaller studio is called Park90 and currently houses a two-hander from New Zealand playwright Gary Henderson, Skin Tight. Angela Bull and John Schumacher play Elizabeth and Tom, characters who seem to be several decades older than the actors playing them, but have presumably been cast as the age they feel, not the age they are. Elizabeth's life is drawing to a close and the couple face the end by reliving the earliest days of their relationship, from the first time they had sex, to Tom's conscription to a war, their financial successes and failures on their farm and their respective relationships with their daughter. It's also the final opportunity for them to share the last remaining secrets they've managed to keep from each other.

Jemma Gross directs Schumacher and Bull is what is a highly physical performance that often breaks out into playful violence, like that of the pair of children they were when they first met (although I'm guessing Bull isn't the best at pulling her punches given the right side of Schumacher's body is one big bruise.) It forms part of an almost Ridleyesque attempt at uncomfortably merging sex and violence - most notably when Elizabeth fellates a knife-blade - except it's mostly kept physical rather than in the words.

There's a lyrical quality to the dialogue that also put me slightly in mind of Philip Ridley, although it doesn't really attempt to explore the same kind of darkness. Instead it tries to tell a story that's all the more touching because of how commonplace it is - a couple who've led a happy enough life together, preparing for the end of it. But although there was much I admired about how the piece worked, I wasn't hugely emotionally invested - perhaps because there's something a bit fragmented about how their story is presented.

It's strongly and subtly acted though, with some memorable visuals from designer Jessamy Willson-Pepper, who's given the whole room an agricultural theme harking back to the farm where the pair were happiest. There's also a particular visual signature in replacing the frequent splashing water with clear gelatinous lumps, which flow almost liquid-like and catch the light to give the piece a particular autumnal glow - but which can't be much fun for Angela Bull's hair. There's a lot that's good about Skin Tight but it felt to me like it lacked a bit of the intensity it might have managed in this kind of intimate space.

Skin Tight by Gary Henderson is booking until the 11th of August at Park Theatre's Park90.

Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes straight through.

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