Tuesday, 27 November 2018

She Said, She Said - Theatre Review

What: She Said, She Said
When: 27 November - 1 December 2018
Where: The Stables, Meat Market
Written and directed by: Sarah Sabell
Performed by: Lee McClenaghan and Emma Jo Mckay
Emma Jo Mckay and Lee McClenaghan
She Said, She Said (a pun on the he said, she said riff) is a sad tale of a dying relationship told with great tenderness and even greater pain. In the shadow of the Mere Mortals series at Arts House which has been exploring the death and decay of the body, it is only fitting at the Meat Market we have a play about the death and decay of a relationship this week.

Written and performed in a hyper-naturalist tone, the accuity with which Sabell tells this story can only mean she has lived it in some part somewhere in her life. The deft delicacy with which Mckay (Sam) and McClenaghan (Rachel) play the roles embody their understanding that the thoughts and feelings and emotions being examined are too big to be 'acted' and can only be truly felt by the audience if there is enough room on stage for them.

She Said, She Said is a chicken and egg tale. Was it Rachel's alpha personality which drove Sam to spiral deeply into her addictions or was it Sam's addictions which drove Rachel to hide in her work? The play shows us it is both. Each character had chinks in their armor and the other had the exact wedge to split that person completely apart.

Perhaps this is what the phrase 'you complete me' really means. They fill a hole. All we look for is the hole to be filled and think we can relax. How many times does that gap filler turn out to be a toxic irritant destined to weaken us further rather than make us whole?

Sam is unemployed and takes on the house wife role, getting Rachel's kids off to school doing the house work and gardening. Well, she would if she could stop smoking, toking and drinking long enough to stay awake. Rachel works ridiculously long days only to come home to Sam crashed out on the couch and the laundry still in the machine.

The days go by, one by one, looking almost identical until Rachel's sorrow turns into anger. Meanwhile Sam teases her about dating a man, desperate to find a way to break down the growing distance between them. Something's got to give and when violence erupts we finally see the relationship bones laying bare, the carrions of guilt, blame and shame having already picked away at all the tender parts.

I truly loved watching this play. It's honesty is refreshing and whilst it is a same sex relationship, much of the scenario is gender blind. It perhaps favours Sam in the conversation, but there is enough material to hint at the kinds of pressures Rachel is under, particularly as the custodial parent of two children.

The only thing really missing was any sense of actual sexuality between the couple. There is certainly room in the script, but for some reason Sabell has not allowed any intimacy between Mckay and McClenaghan. I spent the first half hour trying to figure out if Sam was Rachel's partner or just a house mate.

I also am unclear about the final scenario in the play. Needless to say, this relationship breaks down but five years later Sam comes back into Rachel's life and I don't know why. The situation has changed dramatically for Rachel over the 5 years and she is no longer in control. We never find out much about Sam in that time but it appears she might have pulled her act together.

All I can think is Sam is back in her life to punish Rachel but these scenes don't end up going anywhere so it's anybody's guess what Sabell is trying tell us. What I can say is it is these scenes which convince me we are supposed to empathise with Sam rather than Rachel but I couldn't make myself do it. I find myself on team Rachel despite her mistakes.

This show is prop heaven for actors. Every detail of a home kitchen and activities is accounted for and there is plenty of time for the actors to do what they need to do. In fact every detail of the staging of this play is immaculate.

Mckay is frighteningly convincing as a substance abuser, even to spitting up into a wastebasket after a choof of the pipe. McClenaghan is a wonderfully uptight work addict although her outfits become a bit of a costume parade as day by day goes by. Sabell's direction has set up a pace similar to that of a metronome with the suspense building of Jaws. It is the clinically clean forensic approach which draws us in as each layer of love is stripped away, heartbeat by heartbeat.

She Said, She Said is a remarkable play and one which really speaks to a very common relationship dilemma in these days of high unemployment, lack of work/life boundaries and the acceptability of recreational drug use. It is really hard to see the lines in this modern world - either because we are too busy or too blurry - and our families are the ones who pay the price.

Get down to the Meat Market and see She Said, She Said. This is an example of some of the things theatre does best  - it is theatre done with honesty.

4 Stars.

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