I adore Simon Stephens' storytelling. His ability to draw you in, navigating the anguish that these two characters inhabit, is astounding. It is brave of OVO Theatre Company to take on such a challenging, yet simple, production, and the pairing of these two monologues is an obvious choice. Stephen's monologues Seawall and T5 are united in their grief. Within Seawall, the unimaginable happens - if you haven't seen it, I suggest doing so1. T5 is less well-known. It follows a woman's journey away from her daily life as she struggles with the trauma of a violent act close to her home. The violence permeates her life, and her inability to act shocks her into questioning her authority over the rest of her life, as she unfurls the trauma of her husband's infidelity. The sensory descriptions are incredibly evocative - I'm sure I will never forgot the nauseating line "I can smell her on his skin even when she hasn't seen him in days". The emotion is perfectly captured by both Stephen Cunningham and Zoe Coxon, as they manage to create the atmosphere of numbness without appearing blank. They are utterly convincing in every nuance, and well cast - Cunningham is the most realistically 'fatherly' appearance I have seen perform this role. Although Andrew Scott's clean-cut (and renowned) performance of this monologue could not be criticised, the stubble and life experience worn into Cunningham's face made me wholly convinced of his pain.
You should never be able to see the seam between excellent acting and directing, and this was thoroughly accomplished. Director Andrew Margerison also made a fitting decision in allowing the pieces to speak for themselves without any need to 'theatricalise' them as such. The simple set of a white screen gave the audience an aesthetic 'blank page', and the shadow work was a nice touch, allowing the physical imagery of the woman floating above the ground in T5 to extend beyond our imagination, into a haunting creation.
Both monologues use physical imagery as a metaphor for grief and trauma - within Seawall, Alex apologies for the hole through his stomach, a recognizable feeling that manifests when you suffer a loss, and the sick emptiness it entails. Within T5, the woman finds herself floating higher and higher above the ground at Terminal Five, and the monologue ends with her repeating "I don't know how to get down". The feeling of being trapped in her marriage and seeing no way to solve her situation is embodied quite literally. Stephen's captures these universal feelings perfectly and in a way few other current writers can. These narratives, although seemingly isolated in their grief, carry a ubiquitous truth that applies to all human experience.
Overall, an exciting choice for the Maltings Arts Theatre, and I look forward to Abi Morgan's Splendour, having been thankfully reassured by Seawall/T5 of OVO's caliber.
1. Andrew Scott's excellent performance is available to download for £3.50 here - http://www.seawallandrewscott.com/