Dominic Savage has been everywhere this past week: True Love on BBC1, Fear starting at the Bush theatre. It was fascinating to see these two pieces of work having parallel lives. True Love, while not perfect, achieved an intimacy and tenderness that was hard to dismiss or shake. Fear, more visceral and in your face, failed for me to capture its world or illuminate the characters’ lives.
Fear examines the intersecting moment in the lives of two Londoners from contrasting worlds. It wants to say things about modern values, aspirations, the moral complexities of having too much money, and examine the similarities of people who, in theory, have nothing in common. But it feels skin deep and it stumbles on storyline and characters too vague: I don’t care for exposition. I don’t have to have everything spelled out. But the details need to be there.
Gerald (played by Rupert Evans), is a financier (what does that mean?), on his blackberry all the time, but the screen is off and he very obviously pushes buttons that don’t do anything. His briefcase is empty (do City types carry briefcases any more? I don’t think so). There are vague talks about deals, but it’s obvious that nobody (actors, writer or audience) know anything about what he does or how he makes money. Amanda, his pregnant wife, played by Louise Delamere, talks about a job but she doesn’t currently work. Why not? She is pregnant but obviously healthy, so why isn’t she in the office every day? At some other point, she says “All I ever wanted was to be a mum”, so it’s possible that she has been pulling an elaborate sickie all this time. None of these makes me like her. The two actors playing the couple look like they just met, there and then, on stage. Their rhythms, their movements, their personal space dont’ fit together. In the first episode of True Love, David Tennant and Joanne Froggatt play a married couple in a short and sparsely told story, but they feel like they have been together for a lifetime. None of this exists here.
The most fascinating character of the piece is Kieran, played by Aymen Hamdouchi. That’s not to say he is better written, but Hamdouchi’s charisma goes a long way towards bringing the character to life and making him extremely watchable. Still, much of his actions don’t make sense, his motivations are both confusing and not entirely believable: does he want money? power? Is he just a psychopath? If the answer to this last question is yes, the play becomes profoundly uninteresting. But so many things in the story point to that direction. In the end, it just feels that actors, director and writer haven’t found a way to make it work.
The set has a crisp mirror effect that’s impressive and atmospheric. It generally works well, but the blending of the two houses isn’t entirely successful: it makes it feel that the only trapping of the life of the rich is a coffee plunger. Still, between the set, lighting and sound design, there is a visceral dangerous mood that points to interesting directions (even if they don’t quite pay off).
It’s hard to know how much the play will change till press night and beyond. It had a difficult birth (Tobias Menzies and Eva Birthistl left the company early at rehearsals to be replaced by Rupert Evans and Louise Delamere) and it’s not where it should be at this point of previews. And although I have been extremely negative so far, I find it a fascinating project: there is a lot of talented people involved on every level, they have enganged in an interesting process but as far as I am concerned, the end result is not as profound as it should be. Even for that, it is interesting to unpick the details.