In a converted Art school with stairs that spiral around a disused lift shaft leading to a venue which places the audience either side of a promenade stage very close to a versatile bedroom set, there dwells a surprisingly brief, absorbing and venomous exploration of fidelity between two generations of couples.

Dobbs has spotted another ideally stultifying play for this space. It broods and it explodes, with a series of apocryphally familiar scenes made surprisingly real by plunging these ordinary characters into such situations.

Joan (Niamh Cusack) and Tom (Sean Campion) are Irish and middle-aged. As a dinner lady and plumber they are going through the motions as their daughter is about to finish university, their treacle-treading mundane marriage is what male escort Peter (Matthew Lewis) is desperate to avoid with his romantic fellow thirty-something, Tara (Ruta Gedmintas). Cleverly, characters cross paths in a series of two-handers without ever connecting the dots across all the encounters. The lies, inconsistencies and ignorance that result from the conceit highlight very real problems, drawing alarming close parallels between the seemingly disparate relationships.

Broadway Baby spoke to Niamh Cusack at a point where she wasn’t sure how she would be able to use the performing space. During the first few days of rehearsals she told us “I really like smelling the audience and the audience smelling me”. Indeed with a view merely feet away from the slightly elevated stage, sweat is visible, flecks of spit from raging arguments are lit up in the surrounding spotlights and a weaving gin and tonic slops worryingly out of its glass, catching the light on the way to the floor. For those new to the Found111 theatre, site of Bug and The Dazzle as produced by Emily Dobbs, this is the type of intimate ‘reality’ that makes the trip special. However, the risen stage and linear lateral movements and exits of Unfaithful lacks a little of that trespassing atmosphere created in the past and will disappoint some returnees in that respect. On the plus side, Dobbs has spotted another ideally stultifying play for this space. It broods and it explodes, with a series of apocryphally familiar scenes made surprisingly real by plunging these ordinary characters into such situations.

When Joan employs male prostitute Peter to get back at her husband, the conversation-cum-confrontation about why she is there, why he is there and the expectations of both sees them thrust and parry like fencers. Intricately, it gets under the skin of why these people would be in a room together for such a “transaction”. Later, Peter off-handedly explains the reality, at least in his mind, of his control over his female client from the previous night, completely pulling down the artifice of the previous scene. The play is funny, the humour arising from such discomforting interactions. However, Owen McAfferty’s style starts to form patterns which run across characters as they seemingly appeal to the audience for a laugh or try a stagey joke in an attempt to mimic everyday conversation.

The performances are tremendous; the four characters form an extremely convincing square. Cusack is the incandescent leading light, railing against Tom and Peter with a glint in her eye as if she is having a ball even when hurling volleys of expletives. The male characters are arguably undercooked. Campion portrays Tom’s abject disorientation at his life with a convincing slumped demeanour and patriarchal inability to articulate himself. Lewis gets his top off, something female fans might find most important of all. Despite and because of his early superficiality and bravado, his self-delusion and need to ‘please’ become one of the most intriguing strands of the play. Gedmintas, as the college dropout and Tesco checkout girl Tara is in control as either a coquette or when just plain bored. Like her partner Peter, the initial worry over these millenials with their first-world problems who can only talk about whether or not to have takeaway for breakfast, quickly wears off. She is the least developed of the four, so kudos to Ruta for holding her own.

It’s all about power, gender and age, the conduit for them all is sex. It doesn’t need deciphering like Bug or The Dazzle as the slightly constructed nature of the narrative has a guiding flow. Extremely concise with an 85-minute runtime (with no interval) the end is somewhat of a surprise, in that there is scope for these four to talk in an endless series of pairs, never quite realising how much their lives have conflated. It could easily go on and on. All of the exposition is through dialogue and the added unfaithfulness of each character in terms of truth leaves questions over everything seen or explained. There is never a third-party to provide validation. A number of key scenes and admissions are therefore up for interpretation.

For a performance that is often bleakly gritty, with characters questioning their decisions and hurting their partners “just to feel something” – the ending does feel tame. The play is in the process though, how it ends is somewhat immaterial.

Reviews by George Meixner

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The Blurb

Following the critically acclaimed, sold out productions of The Dazzle and Bug at Found111, Emily Dobbs Productions is thrilled to present the London premiere of Unfaithful, a blackly comic new play starring Sean Campion (The Borgias, Stones in his Pockets), Niamh Cusack (Heartbeat, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), Ruta Gedmintas (The Strain, The Tudors) and Matthew Lewis (Harry Potter film series, The Syndicate).

Tom is enjoying a quiet pint after work. Tara lies awake whilst her boyfriend finishes his shift. When their paths cross, a spark is ignited that reveals the hidden truths of two tangled relationships; the unspoken desires, the piercing regrets, and the postponed conversations.

Sharply written by award-winning playwright Owen McCafferty (ScenesFrom The Big Picture, Shoot The Crow) Unfaithful questions what it means to be lovers, partners and people. Directed by Adam Penford (Watership Down, A Small Family Business).