Glasgow based playwright Stef Smith's
The play deals with a depth of emotion so stark and painful that it would be very difficult to represent directly, but by allowing us to see the dramatic means required to cope with those feelings, we get a sense of how destructive those feelings must be on the inside. It’s a well-chosen technique.
This successful play is structured like a horror story; each new reveal bringing us closer to the dark heart of the characters’ lives, yet the focus is always on the emotional reality of Lily and Peter's lives. Surprisingly, the main way in which this is done is through the disconnect between the superficially happy Sonny and Cher songs, and the obvious misery of the characters. The play deals with a depth of emotion so stark and painful that it would be very difficult to represent directly, but by allowing us to see the dramatic means required to cope with those feelings, we get a sense of how destructive those feelings must be on the inside. It’s a well-chosen technique.
The central performances are very strong. Julie Brown's Lily is essentially a completely broken person and, while there isn't much movement in her character, she really draws you into her pain. Johnny McKnight is very engaging as the desperate Peter; he’s given rather more to do, and he really makes the most of it, drawing out all the aspects of his grief and love. Despite strong performances, however, the characterisation leaves a little to be desired. Lily and Peter have been completely eclipsed by their situation, which is understandable, but it would have been nice to see some complexity in their characters, even if it was a complexity which had since been swallowed by their sadness.
The character of Joan, the neighbour, is a bit of a weak link. Julie Wilson Nimmo's performance is highly entertaining, and her cheeriness a welcome break from the other two, but her style is rather less naturalistic than the others, and it has an alienating effect. As a character, she is rather under-utilised. Her motivation, when it is revealed, turns out to be one of the most interesting things in the play, and it is really only used as a plot device.
Director and designer Kenny Miller’s set is excellent, with the stage placed at a slight angle to the audience—an off-kilter approach that sets the tone for the whole design, hovering in a liminal space between naturalism and symbolism. The bleak numbered boxes at the back, and their contrast with the sparkles that turn up later, is a particularly nice touch.
On the whole, this is a highly atmospheric production which finds an original and effective way of dealing with a highly troubling topic.