DryWrite commissioned Jack Thorne to write a play set entirely in a bathroom. With Mydidae, he proves what an enormous stage that little room can be. The title refers to a family of flies with a short life span; an existence often broken down to functional necessities, of which reproduction is a crucial part. Thorne takes David and Marian, a couple who don’t remember but can’t forget, traps them inside personal grief and professional disappointment, strips them naked, and watches them tear each other apart in three acts.
The setting provides us with shorthand for the couple’s relationship: they pee in front of each other, bath together. Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Keir Charles are well cast as private school versus state school types in a wholly believable long-term relationship. They play Marian and David’s in-jokes with natural warmth and make them seem like characters who belong together despite their differences. But close as they evidently are, we are reminded that despair, like hope, is something you do by yourself. In crisis, and its aftermath, we are all alone. They have become disconnected from each other – he is plugged into his work, she has an ear on dying in France – and it is only another shocking event that can jolt them back into the same space.
It is a tough play to watch – as in Stacey, Thorne has the audience laughing its head off one moment and struck dumb with horror the next – but the outstanding actors and excellent director Vicky Jones ensure the brutality is eased by layers of humour and affection. At the end of the play, Marian and David’s compatibility is one of the things that endures, though it has uncomfortably twisted into her conviction that they “deserve each other”.
Amy Jane Cook’s design is impressively plumbed and from the moment the taps are turned on, the regular sound of the bath filling with water is like a ticking clock. David’s suppressed unhappiness is evident in his endless pursuit of a happy tomorrow and Charles plays this conflict impeccably. The strain reveals a man who has been resolutely trying to overcome his inadequacies his whole life; who grinds his teeth in his sleep. Marian also hides her sense of helplessness and isolation, leaving it to her subconscious to express it in nightmares. Normally, when a character relays their dreams, recalls past events or asks a long list of questions on stage, we are in for a boring stretch, but thanks to Waller-Bridge’s total engagement with the underlying purposes of these moments we are kept steadfastly in the action.
Mydidae is about survival. Thorne lets the unthinkable happen, then asks what happens next, how we get back – or keep going – from there. Under what circumstances do seemingly ordinary people do extraordinary things? What pressure, where, and when, causes someone to break? Jack Williams’ lighting and Isobel Waller-Bridge’s sound designs are sensitive to the themes throughout but both are particularly effective in bringing Marian (and us) slowly back from the brink, into a world where everything has changed.
The bathroom, small, domestic, ubiquitous, is a private, secret space where we perform daily tasks surrounded by potentially deadly weapons, where we examine ourselves in mirrors, face up to the reality of our physical selves at our most vulnerable. One of the only differences I noticed between the run here and at the Soho was the reason for Marian re-entering the bathroom for the last scene. This was added judiciously and means the bathroom setting can never been read as a mere concept.
In terms of venue, the show is better suited to the slightly bigger Soho Upstairs. Trafalgar Studio 2 is very cramped and it’s harder for the audience to view the bathroom as the fishbowl it is designed to be. My main problem with this production, however, is the strong choice made around the climax of the story, one that the text arguably doesn’t make, which takes the play out of the realms of the possible. I was slightly troubled by it (though not more than any medical professional in the audience, I’m sure) as it makes big changes to both characters’ journeys. Nevertheless, this is excellent writing, acted with precision. The audience is left with complex questions, along with the chilling recognition that we know very little about what really happens behind other people’s closed doors.
In a quiet moment of Mydidae, I heard some muffled thumps and remembered the Macbeth cast thundering around upstairs. If it’s a choice between the two, see Mydidae. That’s where you’ll get theatre as difficult and compelling as it should be.