To damn with future praise: Necessity, written and directed by Paul Macauley, has a great deal of potential. Suburban couple Patrick and Mish receive a letter from a jilted ex-girlfriend intended for their married neighbor. Arguments about whether to send on the letter are complicated when they actually meet Stephen and his wife, Veronika. Fueled by bitterness of every shade, barbs about adultery, money and children fly, and what starts as a picture of domestic bliss dissolves into something tense and dark.

Exposition is delivered subtly, and the drama and tension between the characters is real.

It’s a production full of great moments. Silences that breathe just right, moves packed with intention and words that mean more than is said grab attention like a fishhook. It speaks to the quality of the actors and, in particular, Macauley’s directing. The writer/director can face challenges translating his ideas into a reality which involves other people, but his attention to things that don’t exist on the page – silence, inflection, meaningful looks – proves that that is far from the case here.

In this, Macauley is served well by his talented cast, who all provide the well-rounded, realistic performances required by the script. I’d like to appreciate Will Anderson’s Stephen, who, despite being the central figure by my reckoning, is one of the smallest. Anderson really impressed me, especially in later scenes, in which he evokes a lot of empathy in relatively little time. Cerys Knighton (Mish) is a talented workhorse of an actress, by turns funny, loving, pained and causing pain, driving the plot with her decisions.

Dialogue, too, is well done. The opening scenes are funny, and not just in an obligatory, “It has to be funny because it’s not tense or sad yet” way, and an undercurrent of humour remains throughout. Exposition is delivered subtly, and the drama and tension between the characters is real.

The production feels long at an hour-twenty, like it’s a 60-minute Edinburgh show that hasn’t been cut brutally enough. And Tim Cook (as Patrick) occasionally cracks at the edges of his emotional range. But these pale in comparison to larger architectural issues in the writing. The two couples interact as friends, apparently for months, despite the fact that there isn’t a moment in the play where they seem happy to be in a room together. The unanswered question is, “If you think they’re too poor/too awkward to be around/too liberally eying your wife, why do you invite them over for a barbecue?” There also seems to be a hole in a certain plot twist that, at the least, isn’t explained well enough.

These holes create a palpable escape valve for any pressure the play attempts to build, like the screaming spout of an old-school teapot. It’s the glowing weak spot of an otherwise laudable production, and it means that Necessity is at the moment, a very watchable show, but far from a necessary part of your week. 

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The Blurb

Necessity is a compelling new play, by writer and director Paul Macauley, about our need to hold onto ideals and what we create in the world when our needs go unmet. Necessity comes to the Bread & Roses Theatre after a sell-out Brighton Fringe run.