Trip's Cinch

Phyllis Nagy

Southwark Playhouse

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

The Southwark Playhouse has managed something of a coup in landing the UK Premiere of a new play by Phyllis Nagy. Trip's Cinch is ostensibly a short play about date rape. Its three scenes move backwards in time and explore the motivations of the protagonists while making some terse observations about society and human intercourse. Its setting on a traverse stage helps to drag the audience into the centre of the action.

Like David Mamet's Oleanna, it is hard to work out who is the victim and who the aggressor. Benjamin Trip (Marcus d'Amico) is a self-loving multi-millionaire playboy who can have whatever he wants. Lucy Parks, played by Ruth Gemmell, is a white trash school crossing attendant.

The first scene starts mysteriously as Bernice Steggers (as yet another unpleasant, self-satisfied personality) interviews Trip about a rape. She is only too keen to push her own theories of life for the rich and famous. In some ways, this intrusive representative of the worst prurience of the media comes across as less sympathetic than even proto-rapist and his accuser. She has a tabloid mentality and justifies this by her English Literature Professorship.

When the author meets Lucy, she meets aggression as she had with Trip but also disrespect. She fails in her attempt to address the truth and is happy to invent.

The couple had met on holiday and the ambiguous ending gives little clue as to whether Lucy was raped. In that she ended up richer by $500,000, thanks to a gift from her aggresso,r she is a winner. Trip became something of a national hero and had his ego massaged, so he too is happy. The message seems to be that the physical rape is relatively unimportant as both are innocent and both guilty, regardless of the facts.

None of the characters is likeable and the mystery remains unsolved in the final scene. By this stage, Lucy and Trip's natures have been established. Suddenly, each acts completely out of character at the beach and all preconceptions are questioned.

Under Thea Sharrock's direction, Ruth Gemmell is particularly convincing as the woman who met a millionaire and achieved fame and fortune, but at considerable cost. The director also successfully ensures that the balance of power and guilt regularly shifts but remains neutral at the end. As with Oleanna, this is entirely in a director's hands and in a different production, that balance could swing either way.