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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Eigengrau
Bush Theatre Spring 2010

There is a lot of excellent writing in Penelope Skinner's new play, but it is all over the place; and playwright, director and actors have a hard time finding the play's focus and keeping it all together.

Mark and Rose spent a hot weekend together that meant little to him, but she has fallen obsessively in love with him. Meanwhile, he is more attracted to her flatmate Cassie, but she's an intense man-hating feminist. And Mark's flatmate Tim is just a hapless loser.

Mark tries to win Cassie while Rose stalks him, flirting with Tim as a way of gaining access, resulting in Tim falling in love with her. There's a touch of Grand Guignol near the end, and some curious plot twists, and everyone ends up more-or-less content in situations we have trouble thinking of as happy.

Several individual scenes play very well. The awkward meeting of Mark and Cassie rings true, some of Rose's airheaded obsessiveness is very funny, and there is a delayed gag involving an urn of ashes that pays off two separate and equally funny times. We get an excellent lesson in how to woo a feminist, and another in the danger of her figuring out what you were up to.

But the play never seems able to decide whether Rose is comic, scary or pitiful, or whether Mark is a nice guy or a manipulative bastard. We have to wonder if Cassie is telling the truth in a late revelation and whether what Tim ends up with is really what he deserves.

And we can also question why the theatre has been designed, and a soundscape recorded, to evoke the London Underground when that seems to have nothing to do with the play. (Oh, and the program tells us that the title means what the eye registers in total darkness, and I couldn't tell you its relevance either.)

Director Polly Findlay and her cast - Sinead Matthews as Rose, Geoffrey Streatfeild as Mark, Alison O'Donnell as Cassie and John Cummins as Tim - all work very hard, and are able to make many individual moments come alive, but they can't create coherent characters out of the disparate pieces the playwright has given them.

This is a situation occasionally encountered in fringe theatre - a clearly very talented playwright who hasn't quite mastered the craft. Eigengrau is worth seeing, not just for its own uneven merits, but as an introduction to a writer whose next play, or the one after that, is likely to be very good indeed.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Eigengrau - Bush Theatre 2010