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Short, stark debut play about a toxic love triangle
Across a table in a bare room, Esther faces a man.
Under a harsh institutional white light, she gets to know Keith, whom she hates, instinctively and immediately.
Under a warm, nightlife-coloured orange glow, she gets to know Chris – a man she smiles at and is charmed by.
This is the set-up for ‘Spiderfly’, John Webber’s debut play. Several facts are established early on. Esther’s sister Rachael is gone, and Esther (Lia Burge) is not coping with it well. Imprisoned Keith (Matt Whitchurch with a south London accent) has pleaded innocent to something. Chris (Matt Whitchurch with an RP accent), a jetsetting academic, thinks Esther should stop seeing Keith. It’s morbid, as he puts it. It doesn’t take Columbo to work out where this is going.
Though Kirsty Patrick Ward’s production is an hour long, the whole play feels like it takes place in one drawn-out moment: the long, desperate, awkward first date pause. The stage design deliberately toys with this assumption – Keith and Esther could be mistaken for a couple in a crap pub until context clarifies the situation. But the dialogue throughout also wallows in the doldrums of the first date vibe, and despite the noir grit of the plot points, can be monotonous. Maybe it’s a biting, pitch-perfect observation of the tedious way men try to impress, talk over and sell their pre-packaged personalities to women; maybe it’s just a bit boring.
Esther’s burgeoning non-relationship with Keith is paralleled by her disintegrating non-relationship with Chris, and Webber is good at red-flagging their obsession with status and masculinity. Chris can’t bear to be thought of as ‘endearing’ or ‘sweet’ in the same way that Keith can’t bear to be pitied by a woman.
Lizzy Leech’s slick stage design makes use of two-way mirrors, evoking police interrogation cells for the Keith scenes and functioning as separated screens when Chris and Esther Skype. It’s sparse and cold, much like the emotional progress of ‘Spiderfly’. Save for one outstanding, intense central scene, when an ugly erotic energy billows off the actors like poison gas, this harsh play doesn’t offer much to genuinely unnerve or surprise.