Searingly intense study in female friendship from up-and-coming playwright Elinor Cook
Elinor Cook is a rising star writer – her next gig is adapting Ibsen’s ‘The Lady from the Sea’ for the Donmar Warehouse, which is a pretty sweet gig by any standards. And ‘Out of Love’ is a pretty good indicator of how she landed it. It’s a smart, painful drama about the intensity of female friendship and the way childhood events can cast a shadow over the rest of your life.
Staged by Paines Plough with the same director – James Grieve – and cast as Brad Birch’s ‘Black Mountain’, it follows lifelong pals Lorna and Grace – Sally Messham and Katie Elin-Salt, both excellent – from childhood innocence to adult dysfunction. It unspools in a series of non-linear scenes that slot together like an exquisitely painful jigsaw. You only see the full picture when it finishes and the final scene – and piece of the puzzle – runs you through like a knife to the guts.
The jumbled structures means that we’re aware from virtually the off that sensible but detached serial monogamist Lorna will move away from the pair’s hometown to have a successful career, while dramatic, self-destructive Grace will remain behind, miserable. What runs through every scene – even those depicting the pair as tweens – is a deep-seated need on Grace’s behalf: shallow relationships with awful men, and something far more intense and draining with Lorna.
Hopefully it’s not patronising to suggest that ‘Out of Love’ depicts a very female sort of friendship, one that I’ve inevitably not got a long of first-hand experience of. But it struck me that Cook is less judging the two women as simply stating that this sort of friendship is a thing that exists, though rarely portrayed in fiction. Deftly directed by James Grieve with enough emotionally brutal twists to keep you on your toes throughout, it’s a study in friendship as an ambivalent, almost primal force, that burns even as it warms.