“I should be locked up and in a way I am”
Tom Kempinski is probably best known for the masterful Duet for One so the choice to perform another of his plays Separation in a mini rep season is an inspired one from director Elizabeth Newman and making Bolton’s Octagon Theatre an interesting place to visit this Spring. Seeing the plays together (there are days when both plays are performed on the same day which I’d recommend) points up interesting similarities, especially as both are intense two-handers around the issue of disability, though this is definitely the little brother of the pair.
Based in part on Kempinski’s own experiences, Separation charts the relationship between a disabled American actress and an agoraphobic English playwright. New Yorker Sarah Wise hasn’t worked for seven years because of a debilitating condition that leaves her walking on crutches at best and playwright Joe Green can barely face the thought of leaving his living room, something which has stunted his creative juices. When she calls him for the rights to perform one of his plays though, a transatlantic connection forms which slowly develops into something life-changing.
Where Separation really works is in the depth of character that has been drawn, neither one is defined by their condition but rather emerge as fully-fledged people, rich in complexity and experience as they grow to become emotionally dependent on each other even at such long distance and reaffirm the understanding that no matter how much their lives may be affected by their illnesses, they can always ensure that they don’t limit them. There’s a dry sense of humour here too as well as the tumult of grand emotion, a richness that alleviates some of the lack of pace.
The real problem comes with the awkwardly dense dialogue that relies a little too heavily on pseudo-therapy-speak and metaphorical allusion to reach for a depth that it isn’t entirely clear that it needs. And the episodic structure means that there are too many moments left unexplored, too much referred to that happens off-stage. Fortunately, the strength of Clare Foster and Rob Edwards’ performances make it a largely engaging experience and a worthy counterpart to the superior Duet for One.