“It’s exactly like yours, but the other way around”
As any fule kno, purple underwear had its cultural apotheosis in Back to the Future but there’s a scene in Catherine-Anne Toupin’s Right Now (À Présent) that threatens to wrest that title from Michael J Fox and anoint the delicious Maureen Beattie in his place. But lingerie aside, there’s much more in play in this fascinatingly twisty piece of writing from this Québécois playwright, a transfer from Theatre Royal Bath’s Ustinov Studio which has already toyed extensively with our perceptions in The Father and The Mother which have also been exported down the M4 in recent months.
Here, it’s Alice who has tumbled down the theatrical rabbit-hole into a world of increasing strangeness. Installed in a swanky new apartment with doctor husband Ben, life ought to be swell but there’s clearly something awry – their physical intimacy is severely stilted, a child’s toy left on the floor provokes the tensest of exchanges, her sleeping patterns are wrecked and he’s working all the hours God sends. All the while, a baby’s cries haunt the room… So the arrival of orchid-bearing Juliette from across the hallway, along with son François and husband Gilles and their promises of drinks and dinner parties ought to release the pressure valve – after all everybody needs good neighbours.
What it actually does though, is tip Alice’s world off-kilter. Slowly at first but then wrenching it right off its axis in a storm of psychosexual intrigue, Bacchanalian excess and emotional turbulence. The dislocation that she, and we the audience, feel may be less pronounced than the aforementioned works of Zeller but that actually makes it more chilling. Toupin’s writing – expertly translated by Chris Campbell – revels in the complexity of its strangeness, its absurdity almost, as it calls into question pretty much everything that it sets before us.
Lindsey Campbell is excellent as Alice, unnerved at first by the intrusions into her seemingly hermetic existence but then abandoning herself (or is it her self) to the attentions thrust upon her. Maureen Beattie offers up a gloriously comic creation as the domineeringly inquisitive Juliette, supported by a suavely seductive Guy Williams as Gilles who thoroughly insinuate themselves into the domestic and romantic lives of Alice and Sean Biggerstaff’s Ben. And as their man-child of a son François, Dyfan Dwyfor delivers a sensational performance in tracking his considerable evolution from the unexpected to the even more unexpected.
Michael Boyd’s direction keeps a firm enough hand on the tiller to ensure we’re never too lost and Madeleine Girling’s set expertly evokes both the fanciness and the fluidity of the situation, aided by the intelligent undulations of Oliver Fenwick’s lighting. And as it becomes more surreal, the darkness it suggests becomes ever more disturbing, the laughter it provokes catching in the mouth as sharp as a freshly squeezed lime. Inspired, bracing stuff.
Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Simon Annand
Booking until 16th April