One thing is for sure: each world is complete in both these plays The Window and Blank Pages. Which is an odd thing to say of two works that are dealing with characters for whom things aren’t complete at all. For the blind man Robert Tremayne in The Window, his obsession with the woman who lives opposite him will always continue in a never ending unresolved cycle. Robert’s flat – Rūta Irbīte’s design – with its hard surfaces and smooth brown reddish walls, mirrors his sad, emotional landscape that is pitted with his occasional outrage, helplessness and bitterness.
Comparisons have been made, inevitably, with Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But as the short play progresses, it is revealed that playwright Frank Marcus and his granddaughter director Rafaella Marcus are interested in something more than just male impotence, although it is here symbolised by Robert’s blindness. Instead, his desperate need for his love’s life to be spied upon and relayed back to him, for something to be preserved that would instantly disappear if he regained his sight, reminds us of A Thousand and One Nights. Scheherazade here is the hapless ex-soldier Ken, Ralph’s ‘friend’ (Robert’s normal assistant) and standing in for the night. It is he we see on guard and alert to report on the antics of the woman who lives across the way, and he that Robert – perhaps in his desperation to touch anyone, or because he has fallen in love with Ken – cannot stop running his hands over. He is using his hands to see him of course, yet it is clear that Rafaella Marcus’ directing might be wanting us to see more.
The play’s uneasy about a lot of things. Homosexuality and race issues are clearly implied but never made explicit. What we can’t quite understand is the complete nature of Robert’s sexuality. Robert certainly projects his own fear of women, and perhaps impotence, on a belligerent Ken. Ken for his part, no matter how much Robert abuses and orders him around, begins to enjoy this little repartee. Nevertheless, this is only because he knows something we don’t. So the rules for the battle are not quite what we think they are, and our feelings for Ken may change because of this. But there is a big question at the centre of this play and it is cruelly revealed in a throw away comment by Scott Westwood as Ralph.
Daniel Simpson is an imposing Robert. He lies on his bed legs akimbo as if he knows the wooden slate is really a rack. Paul Adeyefa as Ken switches from passive yet reluctant ‘carer’ to morally antagonised and exasperated young man with aplomb.
Blank Pages, a long monologue in another cramped space, substitutes The Window’s stifling claustrophobia and sick room feel for what initially feels like bright sunlight breaking after a heavy storm. But Megan Salter deceives us with her all too cheerful, breezy Carole who is pondering her life, and her reluctance to write about it in a diary. I wonder whether for the director, one reason to put both plays together is to highlight how differently both genders deal with and are called upon to deal with loneliness, disappointment and abuse. Robert is snarling and animal like, as if indeed he has stepped out of a novel by Emily Brontë, the author young Carole used to want to emulate.
However, Carole bears her misfortunes, which she happily relates to us, with a big smile, although one feels real tears are threatening to break her calm demeanour. Previously, Robert was trapped in his bed and in his narrow apartment. Here, Carole’s abode is a wooden-like cage or stable, in and around and on which she paces like reined in horse. The director’s breezy directing though hides the real violence of her grandfather’s words: Carole has suffered at the hands of men and has herself been treated like an animal. Her relationship with her mother seems distant and uninvolved, except for a brief moment where they both come together through a common disparaging of men. Otherwise, her life is a blank page, of the type she throws around in the air – the white unwritten upon leaves of her empty diary. Desperately sad, despite the fact there is an ambiguous symbolic ending.