“I expect you to tell me what you can see”
Frank Marcus’ best-known play The Killing of Sister George will soon be revived at the London Theatre Workshop over Fulham way but right now, there’s a chance to see the first UK revival of two of his short plays at the Hope Theatre on Upper Street. And in a serendipitous turn of events, Mingled Yarn’s production is directed by Rafaella Marcus, the playwright’s granddaughter, who selected The Window and Blank Pages to present in this double bill.
In Rūta Irbīte’s elegant, existentially vague timber-framed set, Marcus Senior’s separate but interconnected tales of loneliness play out with a nigglingly insistent sense of claustrophobia, well cultivated by Marcus Junior’s astute direction. Both shorts delve into the lives of people caught in melancholy recollections of the past and how overindulgence thereof can make a prisoner of even the most outgoing of selves.
In the first, Robert – blind and housebound – makes a special request of his helpers, that they spy out of the window on the woman opposite, describing her every action in minute detail. Daniel Simpson gives a towering performance as the physically and emotionally blind man, impotent bed-ridden rages giving way to quieter reflective ruminations and supported well by Paul Adeyefa’s Ken, the former soldier who can’t help but reveal his closeted longings from the timbre of his voice.
And in the second, Megan Salter delivers a cracking monologue as Carole, a seemingly bewitching woman in her 20s who gets lost in a reverie when coming across some old diaries. As for many, her formative years weren’t the kindest – even if her tales of being an au pair raise a good chuckle or two – but a deeper sadness emerges as we see that the adult Carole hasn’t cast off that awkwardness, that disillusionment of life which still haunts her today.
Salter’s directness brilliantly disarms the audience and then devastates them with this, bringing an unexpectedly emotional weight to bear, which contrasts well with the twisty dénouement to The Window. A fascinatingly worthy pair of revivals.