We all like to think that our relationships are unique, and no one else knows us quite as well. But for the couple in Vicky Jones’s award-winning debut play, it may just be true.
Harry (Rufus Wright) and ex-student Jo (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), play by their own rules. They use playful lies to distract them from the tedium of their relationship in which they are willing hostages.
As they wait for news from Jo’s sister, who has gone into labour, the two continue what seems to be an ongoing battle. The times is measured out in wine bottles as they strip each other with verbal vigor, punctuated by some real stripping too. Harry’s friend, Kerry (Lu Corfield), pays the couple an unexpected late night visit and gets caught up in their games. But in the end it is not just her who gets burnt.
The play is consumed with violence, where the verbal is far more powerful than the physical, a credit to the writing. As Kerry watches the two prowl around in their natural habitat, her horror reflects the audiences’. They refuse to make this a love triangle, despite her presence and the passionate intensity of their relationship is uncomfortable: made more claustrophobic by the small theatre space at Soho.
The characters toss around the term rape with flippant disregard. It is offered as a way to spice up a tedious sex life, and used to describe how Kerry’s boyfriend had sex with her, when she didn’t really feel like it. Harry even identifies himself as a rapist, a reminder of the dreary sex that opens the play. Whilst this is meant more of a vehicle to shock, it prompts the larger debate about female sexuality that strings the performance together.
Jo, in her role as the bawdy young woman, has an unquenched desire for sex, which she would like to fulfill with other people. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is well cast in this role and Jo echoes some of Phoebe’s own heroines, like in Fleabag: although the play itself does not quite match up.
Still, it is a powerful portrayal of the modern relationship and specifically the modern woman. It’s honest, it’s raw, it’s real, but compared to some other plays with similar themes (and suddenly there are a lot) it doesn’t stand out.
Until Mar 30. Tickets: 020 7478 0100; sohotheatre.com