Originally published on Reviews Hub
The average person will speak 123,205,750 words during their lifetime. So what happens when suddenly a limit is placed on this, no more than one hundred and forty words per day. Can relationships continue to thrive when every word that springs out of our mouth is loaded with so much significance? It’s a clever concept from writer Sam Steiner and difficult to believe that this was created as a piece of student drama at Warwick University; the writing is so accomplished, it is like the author has sprung fully formed, with something to say and the technique to accomplish it.
It shares some of its DNA with Nick Payne’s head spinning and utterly beguiling Constellations, in that both works are at heart two-hander relationship dramas that tackle big ideas. In Payne’s case this was multiverse worlds, science, fate and mortality, here it is surveillance states, the changing roles of the sexes in the workplace and the continued importance of language in a world that through a combination of necessity and laziness is gradually eroding it. Both frame complex works in deceptively simple ideas and both reward multiple viewings and readings of the text. As both last just over an hour, consist of a cast of one man and one women, don’t be surprised if, in the future, a canny producer pairs these two up for a head scratching and intellectually exhilarating double bill.
Bernadette (Beth Holmes – pictured) and Oliver (Euan Kitson) meet at a pet cemetery for a funeral for a cat killed in a demo and begin a relationship. Bernadette is a lawyer, a high achiever who has worked hard to escape her working class background with a tendency to always be somewhere else in her mind, never fully attuned to what Oliver tells her and with a belief that he has a problem that she is the more successful partner. He is a crusader, fighting to repel ‘the Hush bill’ on demos but with a tendency to condescension and ‘look at me’ intellectualism. Holmes and Kitson are fully believable in the roles, both likeable and slappable just like these people are in real life. In a small room above The Greenbank pub in Easton, benched in at all four sides by an audience, they create a believable chemistry that moves from nervous first lines to ecstatic couple in love; from bored disillusionment to finding joy in using up their words in singing along to The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air‘s opening credits.
At one point Oliver accuses Bernadette of being like an internet browser with loads of tabs open at once, never fully focused on one thing but storing multiple pieces of information at any one time. Yet we all do this and that conditioning allows the play to snap back and forth through time from first meetings to multiple points in the relationship without even a lighting change to signify it. Ed Franklin’s direction keeps his actors moving around the space without it ever becoming cloying and keeps them from ever physically touching, a clever touch that signifies words, not physicality is the driving force of this couple.
Its end may be a little bit of a cop out with revelations that feel more akin to a soap opera than its earlier complexities but this is a sharp piece of work and one that grows richer the more you think about it. They may only get 140 words per day but it only takes two to say ‘loved it’.
Runs until 23 April 2016 | Image: Giulia Delprato