A Profoundly Affectionate, Passionate Devotion to Someone (-Noun) at the Royal Court Theatre
The Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs really is a space to cherish. It’s endlessly malleable, so much so that it is hard to believe it is the same square footage from production to production. The latest inhabitant – writer and director Debbie Tucker Green’s brainbox dismantling of relationships, A Profoundly Affectionate, Passionate Devotion to Someone (-Noun) – sees one of its more audacious, if uncomfortable, stagings in a while.
Merle Hansel’s set places the audience in a sort of pit, surrounding on three sides by a chalkboard-lined walkway. Since the action is not fixed in any one direction the onlooker must swivel (the stools bolted to the ground kindly have that capability), choosing who, when and where to focus their attention in a way that almost encourages awkward eye contact. The playwright often has the actors on opposite sides of the room, their characters volleying insults and lobbing adulation over the net of the audience. It encourages the rhythmic head-turning of the most compelling rallies, especially in the intense first act.
For most of its running time the play loiters in the hazy space betwixt relationship specificity and generality; there is just enough detail to pluck out a narrative, but with acres of grey in which the audience can insert themselves. It also leads to some stonking performances. There is a raging fire between Gershwyn Eustache Jnr’s B and Lashana Lynch’s A, one that scorches as much as it warms; they are the first in a hyperverbal trio of relationships, and perhaps the best, rat-a-tat-tatting their way through lyrical pronouncements of love and tossed bombs of spite. There are echoes of A and B in Meera Syal and Gary Beadle’s Woman and Man; some of the same issues, but with less passion and more lived-in weariness, love lingering amid the hardened cynicism. Beadle’s Man then returns – shabbier, slightly insecure, a bit needier – to date Shvorne Marks’ Young Woman, the age difference casting light on a relationship far from settled into its rhythms.
With this latest work Green has stripped the romantic comedy to its essentials and then set it to fast forward; it’s Love, “Deconstructed” or When “Man” Met “Woman”…, populated with Caryl Churchill-like elliptical dialogue on speed. Everything is covered, with arguments over banal domesticities like control of the remote or defecating in private leading to larger crises like the death of a parent or the rot of sexual boredom. Crucially, however, there is also affection, and devotion; this is no sceptic’s dissection of love but a series of snapshots into the light and dark (hopefully) experienced by all.
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey
A Profoundly Affectionate, Passionate Devotion to Someone (-Noun) is at the Royal Court from 6th March until 1st April 2017, for further information or to book a visit here.