‘Rust’ review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Rust, Bush Theatre, 2019
© Helen Murray Claire Lams (Nadia) and Jon Foster (Daniel)

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Stylish, well-acted and slightly humdrum drama following a couple’s affair over several years

Kenny Emson’s two-hander ‘Rust’ is a claustrophobic affair: its short scenes take place over several years in one small, secret flat – or ‘fuckpad’ – visited by Daniel and Nadia every Monday. In their mid-thirties, both bored in their marriages but sticking around for their kids, the pair are conducting their own ‘small’, claustrophobic affair. Nadia – the tougher of the two, sharp and tartly unsentimental – lays out the rules: No mentioning spouses or children. No staying overnight. No saying ‘I love you’. No responsibility, basically. 

But even rules are a kind of responsibility, and they’re inevitably broken. Soon the pair bicker like, well, an old married couple. ‘Rust’ charts their journey from conspiratorial horniness and vague idealism about what sex and relationships could be like, to creeping sourness and bitterness. Various – unfortunately completely predictable – plot developments throw up obstacles that threaten to change their trajectory, but don’t really. This affair is stuck in its own rut. 

Emson’s dialogue remains mostly in a cheeky, flirty register, and Eleanor Rhode’s production convinces on the sexual attraction front. Jon Foster and Claire Lams genuinely appear unable to keep their hands off each other. There’s a lot of snogging.

They’re helped by Max Johns’s great set: a large bed piled high with pastel pillows. The couple can’t help but lounge and roll, rummage and burrow in them; they giggle and fight like teenagers or – when things get tougher – struggle to wade through it all. 

Although it’s oddly not mentioned in the publicity materials, a version of ‘Rust’ was first seen in 2016, off-site during the Bush’s re-development, when it was called ‘Terrorism’. But even that only partly explains why this particular story feels so very familiar.

Line by line, Emson’s writing is fresh, but neither the story nor the form does anything new. Marriage can be a tedious slog… but having an affair comes with its own problems? It seems a strangely safe commission for the Bush. 

The performances are really engaging, however, and if Foster is a tad teddy-bear-ish as the more woundable Daniel, he conveys his increasing devotion lightly. And Lams is very good as Nadia, flickering between impish and agonised, scornful and mournful. 

If you enjoy a snoop into other people’s relationships, there’s drama here between the pillows, but ‘Rust’ hasn’t got much new to say about the affairs of the heart.

By: Holly Williams

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