I am frequently to be found rhapsodizing to students on the narrative power of costume: ‘But what is what she’s wearing DOING in this scene?’ I scream over screenshots of various corseted heroines. I now have a new perfect example for my power point. What happens to the post-coital pillow talk of new lovers when one just happens to be wearing a full mouse suit?
It’s a wondrously surreal premise. Two strangers hook up, and neither wants to reveal who they truly are, or more accurately, who they believe themselves to be. Whilst she hides behind a fur suit with a convenient crotch level aperture, he spins thinly veiled lies in the hope of being exposed. His fraudulence is a cunningly spun web of arrogance. He wants his one night stand to work to uncover his secret so he can have his moment of big reveal. That she is blasé to his moment of unveiling is both puncturing to his ego and strangely arousing. In this strange encounter, the mouse head seems to be endowed with some magical oracle qualities, in the tradition of the best classical masked theatre, the obscuring of her face allowing the truth to out.
And it’s funny, properly what-the-hell-is-going-on, laugh out loud funny. David Ireland has written a beguiling script that manages to be about everything and nothing. The pair’s bickering over how your preference to TV channels reveals your inner psyche, or whether Tony Blair’s status as a war criminal is redeemed by his lustrous hair, feels like a realistic summary of the minutia we judge our potential mates on. Can you truly love someone who claims to have never heard of Friends? What about if they’re fat or they think it’s ok to make offensive jokes? Where do you stand on respecting their religion, even when it makes their behaviour utterly irrational in your world view?
Our two lovers, ill-met by moonlight and one suspects, FETLife, ‘Dermot’ (Rufus Wright) and ‘Janet’ (Elinor Lawless) are incompatible yet spark off each other like two sharp flints. Lawless is effervescent, making Ireland’s words fizz and pop with the sweet acidity she brings to ‘Janet’. A diverting monologue regarding a sexual escapade gone wrong via the weekly veg box could be rendered stupidly melodramatic in less skilful hands, but Lawless is an artist of the darkly ludicrous. Wright is an excellent counterbalance as the self-righteous ‘Dermot’ who you can all too easily imagine booming political banality at you across the humus during an inescapable dinner party in hell.
The balance in attention, however, is too far tipped towards ‘Dermot’ at the expense of the fascinating ‘Janet’. Lawless has picked up Ireland’s thoroughly original character and run with her, every word that she says being somehow utterly believable in her own particular frame of logic. The tinderbox that results from mixing these two personalities is too easily wrapped up in sixty minutes. But perhaps one of the highest compliments for a show is that my principle grumble is that I wanted to see much, much more of these characters (in or out of rodent onesies).
The End of Hope is on until 11 November 2017 at the Soho Theatre. Click here for more details.