Writer: Owen McCafferty
Director: Adam Penfold
Reviewer: Niall Harman
Clocking in at only 70 minutes, Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful is a short play, but it is not a slight one. It opens in a sparse room with a middle-aged couple arguing. Tom (Sean Campion) has slept with another woman, and while he is reluctant to discuss the matter, his wife Joan (Niamh Cusack) understandably wants to know more. This could easily have been a paint-by-numbers domestic drama, but McCafferty’s play is much more than that.
Tom and Joan’s 30-year relationship becomes intertwined with that of a much younger couple, Tara (Ruta Gedmintas) and Peter (Matthew Lewis). Considering its title, infidelity unsurprisingly plays a prominent role, a huge web of lies is spun and the audience never quite knows who is telling the truth or whether to side with a certain character.
The focus of the piece is not simply the words coming out of these characters’ mouths, but equally what each one of them chooses not to say. Communication, or a lack of it, plays a key role in the text, which starkly examines truth, love and sex. The brutal language each character, particularly Cusack’s, uses means it is not a play for the faint-hearted or easily offended, and the intimacy of the performance space makes this all the more intense.
While Lewis and Gedimintas provide solid support in their respective roles, the evening belongs to Cusack and Campion, and they make Joan and Tom’s story a compelling one. Cusack is especially good, flitting between feeling startled and powerful in her encounter with Lewis’s character. The staging, placing the action on a runway stage with the audience on both sides, adds very little to the proceedings. Yet, thanks to the tiny auditorium, this does not detract from the action as every audience member is just metres away from the actors. Richard Kent’s design is very simple, consisting of a mirrored wall that moves to reveal a bar, a large bed and a smattering of chairs and bottles. This seems a necessary step, as the focus here should definitely be the performance and the text itself.
While Adam Penford’s direction could have been a little pacier and shaved a couple of minutes of the admittedly short running time, Unfaithful remains a startling piece of a writing, well-performed in a space that perfectly suits such an intense and visceral piece.
Runs until 8 October 2016 | Image: Marc Brenner