Eigengrau

Penelope Skinner
Bush Theatre
(2010)

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Penelope Skinner won many friends with her previous play, the provocatively entitled monologue Fucked. Its successor contains much witty social observation but also courts controversy by including an In-Yer-Face moment that will turn all but the strongest stomachs.

For the most part though, it is a comedy of manners focusing on four dysfunctional people whose instincts for finding the ideal partner have fallen into disrepair. They are viewed in a claustrophobically narrow traverse space between two steep banks of spectators.

Sinead Matthews plays Rose, the dizzy blonde around whom the other characters flit. She is a frustrating eccentric whose belief in pre-destination would drive most men mad, if her stalking did not. The man on whom she sets her sights is cool marketeer Mark (Geoffrey Streatfeild), who initially sees Rose as an easy lay then cannot escape her ardour.

They each have a strained relationship with Cassie, a (literally) raging feminist who is insulted by the existence of Mark and would be a lot happier were Rose to pay the rent rather than buying frothy party frocks.

The quartet is completed by John Cummins playing Mark's old college chum Tim Muffin, a morose misfit mourning the loss of his grandmother and enjoying the kind of career and life prospects usually cultivated by potential suicides.

In 90 minutes, in addition to the violent shock, a pregnancy, a breakdown, granny's feline casket plus some sharp comic lines and ideas help to illuminate these unlikely lives.

Alison O'Donnell, who manages to walk a tightrope between caricature and believability, excels in eliciting sympathy for perhaps the most complex of these characters, Cassie. At the same time, Sinead Matthews must have had fun in portraying someone bordering on the psychotic.

The men struggle to convince but at least dogged Tim pleasingly thaws into humanity, while unsympathetic Mark can do little more than live up to the tediously macho stereotype.

Eigengrau may not entirely work as a piece of drama and the female characters are far better drawn than their male counterparts but, above all else, it is frequently supremely funny.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher