Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Your Ex Lover Is Dead" - September 2007

In the middle of a very hectic week of theatregoing fitting in a stop at the Arches Live festival was always going to be a stretch but I desperately wanted to manage it. For one I wanted to catch Kirstin McLean's 'Open Grave' (which we ended up being too late to get tickets for), but I was also keen to see this one as it has Andrew Field of the excellent Arcades Project blog as it's director. Although, the set up of a couple reunited for dinner two years after splitting up didn't strike me as particularly promising.

Those of you who read View From The Stalls regularly will know by now that I love sharp, quick, witty dialogue, and that I'm particularly fond of stylish direction that really puts a stamp on a piece. "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" had both. In bucketloads. And excellent performances too. And I adored it.

The stated reason for the dinner is that Victor wants to show Trudy the draft of his new play based on their relationship, but is that really why they are there? Victor and Trudy are accompanied by a waiter and waitress who act as the audience's guide to the dinner and the couple's previous history together. They do this in a number of ways throughout the piece - sometimes re-enacting scenes from the relationship, at others simultaneously speaking the couple's dialogue, and on occasions through interactions between the narrators and the couple. It's a brilliantly executed conceit and it benefits from the constant changes rather than allowing the audience to become 'comfortable' with it over the course of the piece.

To carry it off successfully requires an incredibly polished set of performances from the cast and split second synchronisation. We've seen productions at the Arches really struggle with its particular acoustics due to the cavernous spaces and stone walls, but these guys really nailed it and even managed to use it to enhance the effects of their synchronisation.

Kevin Millington as Victor and Lucy Voller as Trudy were both totally believable in their roles, keeping Victor sympathetic rather than pathetic, while avoiding casting Trudy as the villain of the piece. Nils Hognestad does well as the waiter, particularly when portraying Victor as the relationship broke down.

But it's Eleanor Buchan who makes the greatest impact here, making the waitress an impish sprite clearly enjoying putting the relationship under the microscope, while also bringing out the joy and hope that once existed at the start of the relationship. She has a great stage presence that demands the audiences attention.

Deborah Pearson's writing is pacy, clever and most of all funny, all in a style reminiscent of Steven Moffat. Her use of repetition is poetic and adds levels of emotion but isn't overused as can often happen.

But this isn't all about style, there's a good deal of substance here too. How much do people change over time? Or are our memories too subjective and rose-tinted? Or perhaps even then, the person wasn't what we thought they were? All interesting stuff that most of us can relate to either with former partners or just old schoolfriends.

Polly Webb-Wilson's design is also worth mentioning making surprisingly effective use of what appears to be a simple set using it to convey the restaurant and several locations from the past.

I'm conscious of not overdoing how good this piece was, as many of the reasons that contributed to how much I enjoyed it are that it pushed the right buttons for me personally, both stylistically and with its dialogue. Your mileage may vary.

And even for me it did have one miss-step. While I liked the idea of the 'musical' set piece, it was the only one that I felt wasn't strong enough - a nice concept but lacking in content.

Although it didn't quite have that magical spine tingling or jaw dropping moment of "Black Watch", "Lysistrata" or "The Recovery Position", "Your Ex Lover Is Dead" is right up there as one of the most enjoyable productions I've seen this year.