Absence is at the heart of Simon Stephen’s 2003 play, One Minute. In Delirium’s revival, this absence is made apparent by the see-through tarpaulin the actors sometimes stand behind, distorting their features as if they are drowning, and the cold dark metal frame under which they must perform.
From time to time in this 90 minute experiment with the monologue, focusing on the case of a missing young girl, the actors pin fibre-optics across the set, at the points where pivotal scenes have taken place, as if in a visual representation of the six degrees of separation idea. Detective Gary is the only person who interacts with all the rest of the characters, undermining the idea that whilst we live in a lonely world, our networks are more inter-connected than we may ever find out. It over-stretches the metaphorical point. So too does the production’s use of physical theatre. While the dialogue suggests two characters who are running from each other in the opposite direction, the detectives Robert and Gary swapping false jocularity in an attempt at friendship for example, directors Matthew Churcher and Oliver Kaderbhai have them drinking out of their cups in perfect synchronicity.
In the scenes where Gary flirts at the end of the night with bartender Catherine, the insurmountable distance between them, later brought to the surface in a painful exchange, is thwarted by the cast playing catch with her props. We get it: no one is as separate or as lonely as they all think they are, but the relationships the characters wish to have with each other require more than a game of catch.
This play doesn’t need such additions and the use of static light beams, the actors climbing under or over the optic-fibres, only muddy the words further and get in the way. It adds nothing to the story-telling. In comparison, Song from Far Away, Simon Stephens’ new play directed by Ivo van Hove just down the road, tackling similar and now recognised familiar Stephens themes, is staged very simply, the text to live and breath. It’s a dark play – as dark as One Minute – but it transcends because time and space have been given to the text.
Yet Stephens’ words are still screamingly painful, his descriptions of loneliness, his observations of life in the metropolis, make one ache, as fine writing often does. And the performances are good. All of the cast, in particular Rose Riley as the nervy Louise, give the perfect sense of people living their lives not quite inside themselves, as if suffering depersonalisation disorders. Even in her self assuredness, Rebecca Killick as Catherine, is sophisticatedly distant from those around her and has her boundaries perfectly, flawlessly worked out. Cait Davis as Ann, her body trembling when she begins to suspect the awful truth about her daughter, is sufficiently cocooned in her despair, emerging out of its chrysalis not knowing how to live anymore, or to whom to turn to for help and comfort. Oliver Kaderbhai as the younger policeman Robert, inarticulately uses language as his way to be lonely, since Gary can’t stand his swearing. And Gary himself, played by Jake Ferritti, just yearns “to have someone to sleep with”.
Moments of transcendence do arrive and stop this production floundering, from sinking into quagmire of despair – it doesn’t have to be so despairing; Stephens always gives his characters moments of intense passionate redemption in times of their greatest pain. However, I wonder sometimes at British interpretations of Stephens’ plays. Are we so culturally stuck that our pain can’t also cleanse us? Not quite, as Alex Lewer’s spectacular lighting at the end indicates. But nearly though.