The Flu Season

Will Eno
Gate, Notting Hill
(2003)

According to Edward Albee, "Will Eno is one of the finest young playwrights I've come across in a number of years". In that New Yorker, Eno is very clearly influenced by the work of his older compatriot, this compliment is not too surprising.

The Flu Season is an intriguing, philosophical play, ostensibly about dysfunctional love. It seems as if not too far below the surface there is also an allegory about the uncertainty of life which fits well into The Gate's Broken season, which this play opens.

The way in which a couple gradually fall in love and then further down the line, one of them as mysteriously wants to break the relationship is a reflection of modern life, but today it could also be seen as a very timely analogue for the relationships between countries. One might pile love and money into another for a decade or more and then almost without pause for breath, follow this up with troops and artillery.

Within Soutra Gilmour's minimalist set, The Gate's artistic director Erica Whyman directs a strong cast in a deliberately low-key production. There are three pairs of players. We are initially introduced to a Prologue and an Epilogue, Martin Parr and Alan Cox respectively. They look like the Mormons that you sometimes see on the Tube dressed too respectably with little white name badges on. These two are a Yin and a Yang, Prologue is sweet, Epilogue sour, and the latter always has the last word. This is a bitter, comment on life from Eno who is apparently a fatalist at heart.

They present a post-modern deconstruction of a story of burgeoning love in a psychiatric hospital, that eventually goes wrong. The couple, known as Man and Woman (Matthew Delamere and Raquel Cassidy, both giving star performances) are initially very shy and nervous. Before too long, with a little assistance from a doctor and nurse who themselves had previously been lovers and who rather strangely talk more about themselves than they allow their patients to, they are sleeping together and she is pregnant. Sadly, Man turns on Woman, tells her that he is having an affair and as near as makes no difference, kills her through an overdose.

Much of the writing is elliptical and it is often poetic. The relationships between the three pairs of opposites are always interesting and the play is constantly unpredictable. This is a brave import by the always-adventurous Gate and it is to be hoped that it heralds the start of what looks to be a very well-programmed and successful season.

Philip Fisher