15/10/09, Soho Theatre
1 hr 40 mins. Transfer from Edinburgh of a three-hander about a married couple on a sink estate and her brother, who bursts in on their diner a deux with blood on his hands (and on his T-shirt -- loads of it).
He turns out to be a psychopath who has seized some hapless Asian man, attacked him with a knife, dragged him to a friend's shed and tied him up there and tortured him. This emerges by degrees, in a succession of revelations. The sister (they are orphans) defends him right up until the very last revelation, at which point it becomes clear, even to her, that his actions are indefensible.
But by then the husband (until then an upright character who is however putty in his wife's hands) has been persuaded to join in by terrifying the man, in the hopes that he won't go to the police. So the well has been well and truly poisoned.
A fable about blood being thicker than water, perhaps. Brother and sister are orphans, brought up by foster parents, and she has always looked out for her damaged sibling (who may have been the cause of the fire that killed their parents, and who ensured the couple wouldn't be parted by beating up a small boy at school when it looked like his sister might get a place with a nice middle-class family). She is in denial about his character, constantly making allowances for him, painting his unspeakable actions in the best possible light (as S said, constantly fending off reality), until reality intrudes too horribly).
The dialogue a highly stylised version of prole-speak: lots of "know what I means?", repetitions, uncompleted sentences, a veritable blizzard of F-words and C-words and P-words, all delivered with a reverence and deliberation worthy of Beckett. Happily the stylisation wore off a little as the evening wore on (or perhaps we just got used to it).
A convincing enough portrait of the compromises those at the bottom of the heap often have to make. We differed as to the significance of some of it, though, notably the question of abortion. At the start our heroine is carrying the couple's second child. Then she tells her husband she's thinking of aborting it. I couldn't see a reason for this, unless it was to find some emotional leverage over him; S and A thought it was because she feared the child might turn out like her brother, even though the couple's existing six-year old seemed perfectly OK. At the end she has decided she might keep the child, only to be told by her compromised husband at the very end that he wants her to get rid of it. Is he worried about its inheritance? Or is this revenge for having been dragged down by her?
All done on a single set, with a table and three chairs and exits stage left (to the kitchen) and stage right (to the hallway)... plus glimpses of high railings outside the house, and the lights of passing cars.
Interesting to see if it would have been as gripping without the spooky music, which I found intrusive (which is to say, I noticed it...).
Good performances by Joe Armstrong as the psycho brother, Jonathan McGuinness as the husband and Claire-Louise Cordwell (last seen as Desdemona in the Frantic Assembly Othello at the Lyric Hammersmith last November). Written by Dennis Kelly, directed by Roxana Silbert, a Paines Plough/Traverse/Birmingham Rep co-production.