Fifty Words

  • Theatre
  • Drama
Critics' choice
0 Love It
Jane Hobson
'Fifty Words' at the Arcola Theatre.

Going by the nervous laughter around me when I saw this play, married couples would do well to make sure their consciences are clear before heading to the Arcola. Michael Weller’s grippingly merciless dissection of modern matrimony takes no prisoners.

Part of a trilogy of infidelity-related plays that began with 2002’s ‘What the Night Is For’, this intense two-hander finds Brooklynites Janine (Claire Price) and Adam (Richard Clothier) apprehensively facing their first night alone together since the birth of their son, who is on a sleepover.

Even before Adam confesses to what he’s really been getting up to on his business trips, Laurence Boswell’s prickly production has you squirming in your seat. Faux joviality flashes into frustration as the couple warily circle each other in designer Simon Kenny’s voyeuristically realistic kitchen.

Weller slices through Adam’s selfish fantasies of family life and Janine’s self-protective coldness to expose the raw nerve-endings of their relationship. Protests, justifications and threats pile up as the pair’s thin veneer of civility cracks wide open.

Price and Clothier are pitch-perfect as the clam-tight Janine and needy Adam – an anxiously aspirational middle-class couple stretched to the limit emotionally and financially. They find every shade of their characters’ messy, angry love for each other.

If it weren’t for such well-judged performances and a deep vein of bitter humour, Janine and Adam’s extraordinary self-awareness and eloquence under pressure could become wearing. But as it stands, this unsparing production gets under your skin and stays there.

By Tom Wicker

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