Right Now

First lines are important; as attention grabbers, but also as indicators of what’s to come, tonally at least. In Chris Campbell’s translation of Catherine-Anne Toupin’s A Présent, we have the seemingly innocuous “Have you been up long?” asked of Ben (Sean Biggerstaff) by his wife Alice (Lyndsey Campbell). True, there’s potential for mild innuendo, but initially this appears to be a serious play about a relationship heading for the rocks: a husband, working long hours and still bringing work home; a wife going stir-crazy in their apartment with only a crying (offstage) baby for company. We later learn that, while married for three years, the pair have known each other for seven – a dangerous time, it’s said, for relationships in which either one or the other partner might discover they have an insatiable itch to scratch.

Unsettling, unnerving and yet totally engrossing, this menage a cinq is a theatrical car-crash only in the sense that it’s incredibly difficult not to keep watching

After two short scenes, however, Right Now makes its first apparent 90˚ turn in tone, with the sudden arrival of Ben and Alice’s previously absent neighbours from across the hallway; Juliette (Maureen Beattie), armed with pot-plant gift, and her barefoot, socially awkward (and still-living-at-home) son François (Dyfan Dwyfor). Beattie, from the word go, expertly milks the humour for all its worth, but with a deliciously troubling edge. When Juliette says to her son that he’d be “very comfy” in Alice’s home, it’s a sign of just how invasive these all-too-sociable neighbours are going to be.

Yet no sooner do we expect Ben to reject these invaders when they come round for Friday night drinks, than we see him coming to like them, all the more odd given how not just François but Juliette’s husband Gilles (Guy Williams) are clearly eyeing up Alice. This is how Right Now continues, spending just enough time to lull us into some idea of what’s going on before the metaphorical rug is pulled out from under us. There are, of course, laughs in how disconcertingly honest Juliette and Gilles are about their own fading romance, but their open contempt for François and idolisation of his younger brother Benny – the perfect child who died in infancy – is telling. But as the tidiness of both flat and Ben and Alice’s relationship slip into chaos, it’s clear that their neighbours are simply revealing the unsatisfied desires and deep emotional fragilities that are already genuinely there.

Unsettling, unnerving and yet totally engrossing, this menage a cinq is a theatrical car-crash only in the sense that it’s incredibly difficult not to keep watching; sharply directed by Michael Boyd and making full use of Madeline Girling’s uncluttered set and Oliver Fenwick’s emotive lighting design, the result is a brilliantly choreographed, emotional rollercoaster with a cast that can’t be faulted; and a narrative that provides just one surprise after another. It may be almost impossible to discern what is real and what is not by the end of the play, but that hardly lessens its impact. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

As Alice and Ben settle into their beautiful new flat they realise that the family across the hall hope to be more than just good neighbours.

Soon Juliette, Gilles, and their son François are wearing out the welcome mat; suggesting drinks, hors d’oeuvres and dancing. Things begin to heat up as innocent invitations lead to passionate encounters and unsettling revelations.

Written by award-winning Quebecois playwright Catherine-Anne Toupin and directed by former Royal Shakespeare Company Artistic Director, Sir Michael Boyd, Right Now is a play with a dark heart, a disquieting exploration of one woman’s crisis and darkest desires. It walks a delicate line between playful laughter and deep trauma, teasing and thrilling audiences from beginning to end.

A Traverse Theatre Company, Theatre Royal Bath Ustinov Studio and Bush Theatre co-production.