This beautifully observed show, written and performed (ish) by Bea Roberts, shows us the fragments of a woman. As Roberts crawls from laptop to laptop without speaking, cueing the multiple projectors that cover the Bedlam stage, we see the space occupied by 46-year-old administrator Emma: the desktop of her computer, the goldfish in her office, the dull slide after slide of her drive to work. We see how Emma’s life looks from inside it, and by showing us the space around this woman, Roberts somehow makes her as clear to us as if she was actually in the room – clearer than that, even.
Loosely based on Madame Bovary, Infinity Pool dispenses with the trappings of Flaubert’s novel while retaining its soul. Like his Emma, this one longs to escape the banalities of her life, and the unreality of her attempts to escape that life through adultery are taken further here, in that Emma’s affair is entirely virtual. Kick charms her with a funny work email, a client of the boring trading estate she works for, and they strike up a flirtatious text conversation that throws the mundanity of the life Emma lives into sharp relief, as well as its monotony, its failure to be what she imagined.
While Emma’s young, beautiful daughter is travelling the world, she sits at home with the husband who has ceased to notice her. To him, she barely exists: an invisible purveyor of fisherman’s pie. Another bum on the couch. Roberts has clearly quite painstakingly chosen what she shows us, and between the short, well-observed conversations (fonts to demarcate which voice and when) and the constituent parts of Emma that we glimpse (make-up smeared on an OHP, not a face; hair dye blossoming in a bowl), Roberts slowly, steadily and beautifully draws out the invisibility of older women’s bodies.
The dialogue is so perfectly observed, and all the characters feel completely clear and distinct, which is no mean feat in a show like this. It’s an hour of words and no faces, of empty wine glasses and cheekily texted photographs of feet in high-heeled shoes, and Roberts has taken a huge risk in deconstructing both a woman’s body and a play in this way. It pays off utterly: this story, which could feel small and bleak, feels huge and, despite the melancholy of its Alan Bennett-esque observations of middle age, quite victorious.
When Emma snatches back moments of joy from the job she hates, the small rebellions of her internet browsing become huge and celebratory, and in contrast to the mute agony of her stalled, uninspiring marriage, her affair of the mind, though obviously not ideal, feels like a beautiful refusal to go gently into that good night. Culturally, we ask that women in their late forties should quietly and contentedly become invisible, and Emma won’t do it. In telling a small, personal story in this way, Roberts allows us to sit down in the middle of it, making Infinity Pool not only funny and moving, but genuinely quite remarkable.