There’s always a preference, even in the smallest things.
We each bring to the theatre a palette of turn-ons and turn-offs which determine our taste and influence our judgements. We also all to a certain extent partake in Kant’s good old ‘subjective universality’ – the belief that, when determining what is beautiful, our personal responses of pleasure or displeasure still have some claim to universal validity. We think others ought to agree with our taste judgements. In fact, this belief grounds the traditional practice of reviewing: ‘this is what was pleasing to me, and if you go see the show you will probably also find it pleasing’.
So when Alice (Lindsey Campbell), a thirty-something agoraphobe who keeps hearing things, is forced by Gilles (Guy Williams), one of her eccentric neighbours, to decide which glass of wine she prefers, a literal and figurative taste test takes place. It’s not so much about the wine as it is about the origins of the glasses: one used to be hers and one belonged to François (Dyfan Dwyfor), Gilles’s son. There’s always a preference. Gilles is echoing what his wife Juliette (magnificently played by Maureen Beattie) has just admitted about preferring their deceased son over the one that lived. The son that lived is in the room when she says it. He doesn’t seem to mind. He’s far more interested in seducing Alice in front of her doctor-husband, Ben (Sean Biggerstaff).
This loaded encounter is at the heart of Catherine-Anne Toupin’s superb psychological thriller/comedy, a strange and refreshing play which revels in its own absurd humour even as it ventures into complex emotional and mental territory. Alice and Ben have recently moved into their flat, and their new neighbours from across the hall (who live in a flat that is identical but ‘the other way round’) become increasingly domineering presences. The narrative structure is a brilliant sort of inversion, working its way inside out, until we are presented with an eerie reflection of the beginning. This question of preference is what catalyses the reversal: the choices Alice and Ben make are scrutinised and their alternatives are placed in the spotlight.
Right Now has the unsettling atmosphere of Polanski’s The Tenant yet retains a Quebecois style of comedy: outlandish, in-your-face, sharp, bizarre and witty. Both Beattie and Dwyfor really sense the rhythm of the humour and deliver outstanding performances. The production also creates an intriguing (albeit peripheral) comparison between Quebec and Scotland, two places that have very strong national identities and have both in recent years made bids for their own independence.
And identity as it relates to location is certainly a recurring theme in the play. Michael Boyd’s direction emphasises the space itself, its limitations, its liminality, and its possibility: some rooms of the apartment are stacked on top of each other, while other rooms are located far far offstage behind the audience, almost in another realm. Questions of identity, of being independent and of being alone persist throughout: François warns Alice, ‘When people are left alone, that’s when bad things happen’.
Alice does select a glass of wine. She shows her tastes and consequently has to live by them. Right Now takes that idea of what might have been, of what we would prefer, and then contorts our tastes into their own bizarre existence, puts them in the here and now. It is a riveting production which confronts the implications of our pleasure, of our pain, and of our discrimination, and how they each in turn affect our reality.
Right Now is on at the Bush Theatre until 16th April 2016. Click here for tickets.