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Fifty Words – Arcola Theatre, London

Writer: Michael Weller

Director: Laurence Boswell

Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

[rating:4]

Fifty WordsA married couple’s first night alone since the birth of their nine year old son should be a night of passion, but for Adam and Janine it is the catalyst for an evening of unwelcome truths where old wounds and new frustrations are finally laid bare. A candid and often acerbic portrayal of a relationship imploding, Michael Weller’s Fifty Words is honest, compelling and challenging in equal measure.

When Adam (Richard Clothier) returns from working away and finally gets a child-free evening with wife Janine (Claire Price), he is hoping that champagne and Chinese food will allow their old romantic flame to be relit. That however is not to be as, after 17 years together, both know just which buttons to push and the tête-à-tête soon becomes a war of words that neither can pull out of. Weller’s script develops slowly, with the two combatants circling each other throughout as the tension slowly rises, becoming a powder keg that could go off at a moment’s notice. Both Adam and Janine feel hard done by and complain that the other doesn’t understand their needs, but neither listens to or appreciates the other’s point of view as their problems are so ingrained. The only thing they truly agree on is how much they love their son, Gregory, who is at his first ever sleepover along with his beloved hamster, leaving them home alone and full of resentment.

Fifty Words is well observed and astute, however it is quite hard to care about the two characters as they are both fairly unsympathetic. This does not stop the piece from being thoroughly engaging, and both Clothier and Price give excellent performances, but it does make you wonder how these two people got together in the first place – and moreover how they remained a couple, particularly in the eight years prior to having their son. Perhaps it is because they lack a little chemistry, which makes the sexual overtones a little uncomfortable. That being said, as the play progresses and the axes are really brought to grind there is no doubting the sincerity and intensity of Clothier and Price’s performances, particularly once the idea that their son is returning home is introduced and they have to accelerate their argument. Price is particularly outstanding, reaching a level of heightened emotion that make her seem capable of absolutely anything and injected some real danger to the piece. Skilfully directed and staged by Laurence Boswell, this play is certainly arresting and true to life, and definitely worth an evening of your time.

Photo: Jane Hobson

Runs until 20th July

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