“I want you beyond what I can say beyond what I got words for”
The warnings come early as you queue to get into the Royal Court upstairs – “if you’ve got coats and bags, check them into the cloakroom or keep them on your knees” – and they’re well-founded, for Merle Hansel’s spectacular redesign of the auditorium puts the audience on swivelling stools in the centre, with the company on raised strips of narrow stage around us on three sides.
It’s an arresting start and an entirely appropriate one too, for debbie tucker green’s a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun) comes with all the gnomic but still conversational energy of her best writing. And as dialogue pings from one side of the room to the other to the other as the actors prowl its borders, we can twist and turn as we please, to focus where we will or follow the action like head-bobbing tennis spectators.
Split into three two-handers – A and B, Man and Woman, Man and Young Woman – a profoundly… simultaneously feels scarcely ‘about’ anything and yet universal in its coverage. We follow A and B in fragmented snapshots through the story of their entire relationship, through tears, tantrums, tragedy; conversely we see the scope of Man and Woman’s entire relationship through the uninterrupted flow of a single epochal conversation; and in the third coupling, there’s worlds of possibilities in what feels like a crucial moment.
‘What might be, what once was, what could have been’ is the blurb, but it feels so much like ‘what is’. These exchanges are packed full of the recognisable minutiae of co-habiting – squabbling over the remote or not locking the toilet door – but they’re elevated to pure poetry by tucker green’s expert direction of her cast, who show us how small concerns grow into soul-destroying complaints, how intimate stillness can curdle into chasm-like silences, how grief can turn the world inside out, how the act of saying sorry is necessarily as simple as all that (or maybe it is…).
Gershwyn Eustache Jnr and Lashana Lynch are outstanding, properly excellent, as B and A, fully in sync with each other and the rhythms of the writing and consequently thoroughly heart-breaking as their story dominates nearly half the running time with its emotional peaks and troughs. Meera Syal and Gary Beadle have less to work with in Woman and Man’s marriage rut but still find real depth, especially in the silences, and Shvorne Marks’ arrival as Young Woman begins to tie these disparate strands together with real elegance. It’s bracing, intense stuff but speaks directly to the very heart of how we talk to each other.