The latest instalment of the Spring programme at Islington’s Almeida theatre is the European première of Parlour Song, written by Jez Buttersworth. It tells the story of Ned (Toby Jones) and Joy (Amanda Drew), a couple living in apparently suburban mediocrity, and their neighbour Dale (Andrew Lincoln). After 11 years of faithful marriage to Ned, Joy’s eye is caught by the younger, fitter Dale, though it seems more through boredom than actual real desire for him, and they start an affair as Ned continues his work as a demolition worker across the country, yet everytime he arrives back home, he finds more and more of his possessions have disappeared.
Speeding through without an interval, the writing is really sharp and completely captures the way in which people often relate to each other, loading their seemingly innocuous conversation with layers of meaning. Ned and Joy’s marital harmony is revealed to be paper-thin, and Ned and Dale’s forced jokiness and blokiness highlights the lack of real kinship or intimacy between the two, and also disguises Dale’s betrayal of his neighbour.
Toby Jones delivers an excellent performance which is by turns side-splittingly funny and heartbreakingly tragic, with the undercurrents of darkness which drive the play to its dénouement. His comic timing is something quite spectacular and garnered two (separate) spontaneous rounds of applause and he is worth the price of entry alone. This is not to belittle the other two performers who match Jones’ energy with their own sterling efforts. Amanda Drew exudes an icy sexuality and when she is “on” it is hard to drag the eyes from her, such is her delivery of even innocuous requests like lemon for her gin and tonic. And Andrew Lincoln’s Dale, who also acts as a kind of narrator for the show, is perfectly judged with a genial laddishness, sweeping the audience along with him as he recounts the events.
With a stripped back modern-looking set, set off by ever-changing projections and music that evokes the growing sense of uneasiness, Parlour Song is a real treat, one of the funniest things on stage at the moment, but also one of the most thought-provoking.