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The Theatreguide.London Review

Orange Tree Theatre   Autumn 2017

This low-key two-hander by contemporary Dutch playwright Lot Vekemans might be too quiet and low-key for some, and even at barely 80 minutes it has empty patches. 

But if you re-attune yourself to its subtle insights and unforced pacing you will discover a moving and insightful intimate drama. 

More than a decade ago a couple watched their child die after an automobile accident. The marriage could not survive the tragedy and the weight of the separate griefs each bore, and they parted. Now what seems like an irrelevant event has brought them together. 

Will the same never-shared pain still haunt them and their separate ways of dealing with it still separate them? Or has time made them, if not wiser, then wearier and more able to accept their differences? 

Director Paul Miler and actors Clare Price and Zubin Varla wisely and bravely resist any temptations to punch up the material or play the characters' emotions any bigger or flashier than the delicate story can support. 

So it is gradually and without heavy underlining that we discover that the woman allowed herself to be possessed by her grief, to the extent that he can understandably if cruelly accuse her of taking masochistic pleasure in it. 

And it takes the slow stripping away of layers of protection to let us see that he struggled to compartmentalise his pain, bearing it as a burden while allowing himself to function apart from it to a degree that seems partly to justify her accusation that he is cold and unfeeling. 

The two are never reconciled but painfully inch their way to the acceptance that the other's mode of grieving was the only one available to him or her. Just because it was different it was no less real. 

The play is all about two people compelling themselves to talk about things they don't want to talk about, and it moves at a sedate pace, allowing their resistance time to crumble. As I suggested, this may make it seem that very little is happening very slowly. 

But when you realize that the slow crumbling of the resistance is what the play is about not the conclusions reached but the necessary process of opening themselves up to the conclusions the play's quiet power and the delicacy and sensitivity of the two performances can become haunting.

Poison is a small play that demands more of an audience than many others. But it rewards the thoughtful concentration it asks for.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Poison - Orange Tree Theatre 2017

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