31 August 2016
We open on an argument between Joan (Niamh Cusack) and husband Tom (Sean Campion). After three decades of marriage, Tom has returned home and confesses that he’s slept with another woman. Initially, Joan wants to know why. Then she decides she wants revenge. Meanwhile, male escort Pete (Matthew Lewis) struggles to open up to his girlfriend Tara (Ruta Gedmintas). As time goes on, Unfaithful reveals the links between the two couples in this blackly comic drama.
Owen McCafferty’s disorientating four-hander often seems to talk itself in circles and unnecessarily re-treads what has already been said. McCafferty’s apparent intent to shock his audience quickly grows tiring, with the expletive-ridden sections of dialogue becoming no more affecting than white noise. It is the quieter sections of the play where the writing excels, and a raw, human honesty is put on display. It touches, ever so briefly, on the concept of what it is to be alive, but this sentiment also seems unfulfilled. Maybe this is to echo the lack of fulfilment in Joan and Tom’s marriage, but it ultimately results in a frustrating narrative.
With the stage positioned in the middle of the space, the four characters, who seem to get their kicks from being completely awful to each other, are put under immediate scrutiny from the audience, placed on both sides. The cramped and claustrophobic nature of the Found111 space turns the characters’ environment into a pressure cooker, the late August heat aiding the rising tensions. Stark lighting and a simple set, consisting of a double bed and a mirrored wall, where Joan, in particular, appears to silently confront herself, allow the performances to be the main focus. This is where this production’s main strengths lie.
Niamh Cusack grabs the play roughly by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go for the duration. Her dialogue is a veritable tsunami of words, spilling out of her as if she cannot control them, and her sharp, acidic performance is so absorbing that you’re compelled to hang on her every line. Sean Campion is more than a match for her as onstage husband Tom, convincing and almost pitiable. The pair are an absolute masterclass in powerful, difficult acting, the ugly and distressing side of a relationship gone sour.
Ruta Gedmintas turns in a complex performance as petulant, insecure Tara, but her relationship with Matthew Lewis as Pete never gets enough time to fully develop. Their storyline seems unfinished, despite both actors wholly inhabiting their roles.
Credit to Adam Penford, who boldly and skilfully directs this short piece, keeping everyone involved completely on edge until the final moments. The evening racketing through the 70 minute running time with no let-up, and dropping the audience, slightly dazed, at its abrupt conclusion.
For such an explosive opening, the surprisingly muted ending of Unfaithful leaves its audience unsatisfied and full of questions. Whilst commendable for Cusack and Campion’s performances, the play itself feels underdeveloped, breaking no new ground in terms of story. Despite only debuting a couple of years ago, Unfaithful already feels dated.