Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mydidae - a couple come clean with each other as they confront their demons (MAC until 25 Oct) #BelFest

You know that situation when you’re brushing your teeth in the bathroom and someone else in the house budges in to wash their hands right at the point you’re about to spit out the toothpaste? Or flushes the loo and thus scalds you a couple of metres away in the shower? The bathroom can be a really busy room.

Mydidae is set in a generously proportioned bathroom. Marian (played by Julie Maxwell) and David (Matt Forsythe) are getting ready for another day. She’s wearing headphones and practicing her French conversation. He’s fretting about an important pitch meeting in work, already on the phone to a colleague talking tactics while finding time to criticise Marian’s dental hygiene technique. Affection is mixed in with the needling and barbed comments.
“We just need to get through today.”

The anniversary of the loss of their child means it’s no ordinary day; but they each plan to deal with it very differently. Every trip into the bathroom to shave or pee offers fresh insight their insecurities and their lack of communication. While Marian reads David like a book, it’s only after a glass or two of wine that she overcomes her guardedness and lays into him.

That evening, David’s romantic act of contrition – was he genuinely trying to reconnect or did he delve deep into the book of gestures blokes might offer to prevent digging a deeper hole? – lands the couple in hot water. This longest scene of the play begins with Marian’s at first light-heartened interrogation of David before the conversation turns more serious and he reacts violently. And Marian’s response is extraordinary (and messed up).

Few plays examine the effect on parents of a miscarriage or an infant’s death. Jack Thorne’s script for Mydidae is ambiguous about the precise nature of the loss. Sitting in the bath stripped – emotionally and physically – of comfort blankets and distractions, the couple’s level of resilience is laid bare. Can they bend or will they break?

Long periods of near silence accompany Marian or David as they bumble about the bathroom on their own. There’s perhaps a bit too much picking up socks, folding them and putting them back into a basket in the corner of the bathroom. With a cast of two, the script uses phone calls as a device to allow the characters to speak while in the room on their own.

The small roll of toilet paper adds to the jeopardy of the play … particularly with the cast using so many squares at a time. And no one ever flushes the loo. (I suspect that’s down to plumbing and the noise of a cistern refilling rather than ecology.)

Julie Maxwell and Matt Forsythe are an entirely credible couple, and they unselfconsciously inhabit the bathroom as if it was their own. Given the duo’s disposition and the absence of foreplay, Marian and David’s nakedness is rather matter of fact, and neither sexual nor pornographic. Yet the confined situation of sitting across a bath (which sensibly has its taps in the middle) from each other offers less hiding space than a dinner table would and puts pressure on David until he can bear it no more.

It’s a challenging and memorable play, and clearly connected deeply with some in the audience who sit like flies on the bathroom wall. Eighteen hours later, snippets of heart-breaking dialogue still rattle through my head.

That said, I found the play lumpy. The level of emotion rises and falls like the tide rather than building to a peak. Partly that reflects the reality of coping with grief: work and mundane chores interrupt the anguish. The wobbling dramatic tension leaves the final scene dangling and the audience are unsure whether or not the performance is over.

Ciaran Bagnall demonstrates his usual spatial genius with mirrors casting sharp blocks of light onto the set. The set is a great advert for the quality of bathroom and fittings that Beggs and Partner can supply.

The cast, new director Rhiann Jeffrey and Prime Cut should be proud of this production; in particular Julie Maxwell who coolly flits between emotions with alarming ease. The play is daring (for Belfast) and captures the fear and fraught feelings that inhabit Jack Thorne’s excellent script which well worth a read even if you can’t get to see the play.

Mydidae runs in the MAC as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until 25 October.

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