An old woman sinks back into the arms of her youthful male partner as if she is leaning into her memories of the past. A young woman slithers down the back of a much older man. Together, they make up one married couple. Siân Phillips's Maggie and Sam Cox's Billy look back on their younger selves – Edward Bennett's William and Leanne Rowe's Margaret – feelings heightened by the fact that one of them faces imminent death. Meanwhile, the audience sniffles audibly.
Abi Morgan, now a red-hot film and TV writer with 'The Iron Lady', 'Shame' and 'The Hour' to her credit, hasn't gone back to the theatre in search of autonomy. Rather, she has chosen to collaborate with choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett from Frantic Assembly as she once did on 'Tiny Dynamite'.
Her new piece mingles past, present and future as the two pairs physically and verbally intertwine, building up a portrait of Billy and Maggie's life together. We watch them struggle with infertility, flirt with infidelity and prepare for the final separation.
Morgan is stingy with her facts. At the beginning of their marriage, Maggie and Billy emigrate to an unnamed part of America, as if the playwright wants to separate them from family and friends. The times are only lightly suggested when, in what must be the '70s, Billy objects to Maggie taking a job in the local library.
While Morgan struggles to avoid sentimentality, the production, with its musical underscoring and evocative images, is less restrained. The flock of starlings that swoop across the video screens behind have a sinister beauty and become an omen of what is to come.
Apart from the occasional clumsy piece of choreography, Frantic Assembly and Morgan have created a highly emotional, tender piece, in which the intensity is remarkably sustained over 90 minutes. It feels as if one is holding one's breath from the first line to the last. Ageing, memory and the passage of time are powerful themes that affect us all. No wonder it's a case of tissues at the ready.
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Really sorry, I don't think this was beautiful. I think it was clumsy. Where was the love? I saw it in the older couple - but where in the younger couple..? I didn't see how they could possibly become the more devoted older couple. It is a stinker of a script - and I'm an Abi Morgan fan. It is wafer thin, with everything pointing to what's going to happen in the final scene from a pretty early stage. Very empty for me, with only 2 scenes that were memorable for me in the whole play: the end scene and the telephone message left by Sian Phillips. There should have been more. I should have been devastated. I know that Frantic Assembly has its house-style, but really, it should have been modified to suit the ages of the actors. There were very uncomfortable 'community dance' moments in it, where several members of the audience around me laughed. The movement should have been modified to the capability of the actors. And, actually, the movement wasn't up to very much all round. It was very below par, as was the script. Some socks need to be pulled up I think.