The Theatreguide.London Review
House & Definitely The Bahamas
Orange Tree Theatre Spring 2012
To celebrate his long association with this suburban theatre, playwright Martin Crimp directs two of his short plays, one old and one new, in a double bill. While the two plays nicely demonstrate the range of his writing, they are different enough to sit together uneasily, audience members responding to either one less likely to enjoy the other.
1987's Definitely The Bahamas is the lighter and more accessible work, a darkly comic view of two people so wrapped up in denial as to be completely insulated from self-knowledge, even as their own words expose them completely to us.
An older married couple chat with an unseen friend, letting us laugh at the ways they're not quite in sync, such as how they bicker over minor details of an anecdote (hence the title). We may also find the casual and totally unselfconscious exposure of snobbery, racism and xenophobia amusing, though their wilful blindness to the evidence that their daughter-in-law is deeply unhappy and their idolised son is trying it on with the Au Pair brings in notes of pathos and even culpability on their part.
The device of letting a character's words expose things the character herself doesn't see is a technical accomplishment that the younger playwright evidently didn't feel too confident about, because he repeats, underlines and hammers home the ironies unnecessarily. That aside, the play is a successful exercise in characterisation and sad comedy.
Definitely The Bahamas was originally a radio play, and director Crimp has chosen to stage it as such, with actors sitting at microphones with scripts before them. But he's not true to his own vision, having the actors mime props and visually react to each other, and actually walk offstage when the characters do, rather than letting the sound man provide the footsteps.
Play House is in a more fragmented and elliptical style that those who know Crimp's Attempts On Her Life will recognise, as we see a string of disconnected snapshots of a young couple's relationship. He declares his love and is rebuffed, she inexplicably self-harms, they quarrel, they dance or make love with abandon.
Crimp says in a programme interview that he wanted to display the volatility of any passionate relationship, but he must have known that, faced with a jigsaw puzzle that doesn't fit together or a mosaic with pieces missing, an audience will try to make sense of the fragments they're shown.
So Play House becomes a kind of Rorschach test – are you seeing something the playwright intends or just exposing something about yourself if the woman seems unbalanced? Is there dark meaning or none to her uneasiness when talking about her father, and are we to read anything into his sudden familiarity with a neighbour?
Some may find this intriguing, others annoyingly opaque – in either case, it generates and requires an entirely different experience than Definitely The Bahamas does.
Obi Abili and Lily James immerse themselves fully in the fragmented pictures we get of the couple, even if they're less able (or permitted) to make the bits hang together. The two play supporting roles in Definitely The Bahamas, where Kate Fahy as the chatterbox wife and Ian Gelder as the slower-thinking and speaking husband amusingly and touchingly demonstrate the characters' different mechanisms for not facing any truth about themselves.
Review - Play House & Definitely The Bahamas - Orange Tree Theatre 2012