Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis returns to the West End stage in Belfast writer's Owen McCafferty's powerful and poignant drama about the nature of love and deception.
It is staged in Found 111, a chic, if rough and ready, pop-up venue on the site of the old Central St Martin's College of Art where it follows critically acclaimed productions of Bug and The Dazzle, both of which showcased young stars. But here, it is two well established Irish actors, Niamh Cusack and Sean Campion, who grab the attention.
McCafferty, whose work we don't see nearly enough of, premiered this at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 2014 and Adam Penford's taut staging perfectly fits this intimate room.
It's a four hander which, in 75 tightly crafted minutes, tells us much about a 30 year marriage gone numb and a younger relationship struggling to get off the ground. Immediately we are thrown into a confrontation where Joan (Cusack) furiously admonishes Tom (Campion) after discovering that he's had sex with a young woman in a bar. In a witty twist she makes him tell her what he should have told her on the phone if he was being honest with her from the outset. Not a good marriage counselling technique.
Tom is a bored plumber crumbling in existential angst who prefers to delay in hotel bars of an evening, nursing pints. This is where he is propositioned by a drunken but determined young blonde Tara (Ruta Gedmintas).
Joan in revenge decides to work out her anger and frustration by hiring a male escort, Peter (Matthew Lewis), and we soon learn that he happens to be Tara's partner. This is perhaps a co-incidence too far but this attempt at presenting infidelity in all its dimensions was also tried by the likes of Schnitzler in La Ronde or Pinter in Betrayal and so it has form.
Cusack is magnificent, rising to the leading lady role she so deserves. She holds us rapt throughout, perfectly fusing the sheer ordinariness of Joan, who is a supervisory dinner lady, with the fire of Greek tragedienne. Some witty Irish sarcasm leavens the drama too and McCafferty writes great dialogue. Campion does wonders as Tom, humanising an emotionally dried out middle-aged man. His graphic descriptions of the sex may be designed to wound, but they reveal a man standing on the edge of an abyss.
The young couple's story is less convincing and harder for the actors to pull off. Tara longs for real connection, a modern malaise, and can't get it from Peter. "I didn't hurt you because you can't feel hurt" she says. He seems to have lost his sense of self, blunted by the delusion that his escort work is merely cold blooded capitalism, which he's perfectly in control of. The four characters all feel cheated in some way out of a life they never had and this is the aching sense of disappointment at the core of the play.
McCafferty structures the piece brilliantly. We witness accretions of lies and we are left in some doubt about the veracity of the two stories. This gets to the nub of it: is the mere thought of contemplating infidelity the real infidelity, with the activity ultimately being beside the point. What gets you to that stage, what keeps you together and what pushes you apart? These are the oldest questions but they are given a powerfully compelling airing here in this impeccably directed drama, which shimmers like a mirage.