Memo to self: never again consider leaving a play at the interval! It is hard to remember an occasion when a first act so irritating has been followed by a second so utterly captivating. Peter Souter’s romantic comedy first appeared in the studio theatre downstairs here in March 2013 and it takes quite some time for the reason why it has been deemed worthy of elevation to the main house to become clear. Alex (Shaun Evans) and Juliet (Miranda Raison) first meet when an estate agent’s blunder results in them both moving into the same flat at the same time; he is a nerdy collector of anything collectible, a loner, agoraphobic and possibly autistic; she is outgoing, selfish and spoilt. The dialogue in the opening exchanges is all creaky one-line comedy, nothing like true-to-life conversation. Evans endeavours to make Alex’s diffidence appealing, but all that Raison can do with Juliet is to stomp around in a childish strop and she quickly becomes the sort of insufferable woman that some might like to catapult from the stage into the centre of Hampstead Heath. Act I ends, predictably, with the warring pair in a clinch, born out of carnal lust rather than deeper emotion. Act II takes place in the same flat, with the the same couple, still at odds, meeting again to divide up property at the end of a ten year marriage. So what happened during the interval? Surely there must have been some displays of tenderness and mutual affection, some reason why a pairing of opposites would last for a decade. We get no clues at first, but, slowly, through subtle, perceptive writing and two wonderful performances, filled with insight, it is all there and no further explanations are needed. Now we can see two real human beings, the introvert and the extrovert, struggling to work out what has existed between them and secretly yearning to find a way in which they can stay together. Out of very little, Tamara Harvey’s production conjures up real magic, which may leave the audience trying to figure out how what begins as one of the worst comedies seen around for quite a while could ultimately turn out to be one of the very best.
Performance date: 26 January 2015