End Of Desire / Escaping Alice

David Ireland / Matthew Pegg
York Theatre Royal
York Theatre Royal Studio

Sarah Applewood and Jack Ashton in Escaping Alice
Sarah Applewood and Jack Ashton in Escaping Alice

This double bill of one-act plays is a rare opportunity to see two interesting pieces of new writing by up and coming authors, directed by the Associate Directors of Pilot Theatre and the York Theatre Royal respectively, Katie Posner and Juliet Forster.

Squeezed into the schedule at the last minute, and featuring a brace of actors fresh from success with the main house production of The Guinea Pig Club, this is very much an evening of two halves.

The first play, David Ireland’s End of Desire, is the more accomplished. It is a comic piece crammed with clever call-backs and displaying a natural ear for the zinger. Occasional gags push the bounds of taste, and most of the play relies on surprise tactics for its charm, including a surreal reveal at the very beginning of the action.

It’s a good example of how to write a short comic play—the characters are just sufficiently fleshed out without unnecessary detail, and the permutations of the scenario explored in multiple interesting ways. Ireland cites La Ronde as partial inspiration, but echoes of Orton are not far away either. Though the inspired lunacy and bookishness of What The Butler Saw or Loot are beyond what is achieved here, there is kinship in the twisted, but impeccable, logics of the piece, and in neatly aphoristic declarations such as Janet’s (Sarah Applewood’s) “I don’t believe in atheists!”

To explain too much of the characters would be to deprive audiences of the joys of the unexpected twists, but we see the aftermath of a one-night stand between two strangers, Janet and Dermot (Jack Ashton). They spar and circle each other, with revelations coming as thick and fast as laughs—it is almost as though Ireland has set out to craft a farce which takes place entirely between two characters and without leaving the single-room set.

Posner’s direction is sure and accomplished, helped by speedy, precise delivery from her likeable actors, which at times papers over the occasional awkward gear shift or questionable note in the script.

The second half of the evening is different in many ways, though echoes have been found in the staging: the set (designed by Olivia Morton) is largely unchanged, and both plays begin with one partner standing over the other who remains in bed and wrapped in sleep.

Matthew Pegg’s play, despite occasional lighter moments, is by no means a comedy and, unlike the new beginnings of the first play, focuses on the end and aftermath of Alice and Simon’s relationship. It too shows something of an ear for the dialogue of everyday couples. But here the concept (again, to say too much would be to deprive the evening of its entertainment value) simply scuppers the piece.

It’s a static moment in time, which robs the situation of any drama or real sense of progression on the part of the characters. The only developments made are those of the audience as they grasp what is going on. But this does not take too long to become clear, and thereafter it’s a fairly mundane progression through the psyche of the jilted to a forced and arbitrary-seeming resolution.

Direction and performances are not at fault here, and indeed Ashton and Applewood are strong and magnetic throughout. This double bill is worth it for the entertainment value of the first play alone, and though the second is too well-trodden a psycho-drama, the chance to weigh up new writing, and to see these performers control the different idioms of the two pieces with such aplomb, is not one to be sniffed at.

Reviewer: Mark Love-Smith

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