Without That Certain Thing – VAULT Festival, London

Writer: Rory Platt

Director:  Chloe Christian

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

Without that Certain Thing is a smart, fast-talking comedy thriller that ticks all the right boxes. A parody of American film noirs, writer Rory Platt has seamlessly transported the world of weary private investigators and elusive femme fatal’s to present-day London. And it works very well.

Madeleine has come to the big city from Scotland, but she’s struggling a little; too many people, too many shops. But her problems get bigger when she realises that she’s being followed by a man named Swann. He appears on her commute to work, she can see him out of her office window, and he’s there when she gets home. In an effort to deter his advances, she goes to a lesbian speed-dating event, but it is here where she meets Sullivan, a retired lesbian private investigator.

Sullivan agrees to help Madeleine, and find out what is driving Swann in his obsession. Soon, with hilarious results, the three characters criss-cross London, and it’s never quite clear who is stalking who. Will Sullivan discover Swann’s dark secret or will she also fall prey to Madeleine’s feminine wiles?

As Sullivan, Phoebe Naughton gives one of the most assured performances of The VAULT Festival. Talky and haughty, Sullivan is nevertheless hypnotic. Speaking in a slightly plummy English accent, her filmic voice-overs are quick and funny, and suit Platt’s dialogue perfectly. If Hugh Grant was to play Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, this is the accent he’d use.

Naughton is well supported by Caitlin McEwan, who as Madeleine becomes increasingly evasive as the play progresses. Tom Macqueen delivers a strong performance as Swann, embodying menace and wretchedness simultaneously in his endless pursuit.  The three actors are directed by Chloe Christian, who keeps the action moving as swiftly as the dialogue.

Platt is an accomplished wordsmith, and his script is full of beautifully crafted lines overflowing with detail such as ‘she took a napkin from the bar and wrote her phone number from corner to corner.’ It is also crammed with literary allusions about unrequited love from Proust (Swann and madeleine cakes?) to Dante and Beatrice, giving this comedy a solid foundation.

Without That Certain Thinglooks good, too, under Jamie Platt’s lights, and the play is so complete it’s ready for transfer or tour. Laconic and cynical, this dark film noir sparkles.

Runs until 3 March 2019 | Image: Contributed

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Dark and sparkly

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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