Play House and Definitely the Bahamas

Martin Crimp
Orange Tree, Richmond

Lily James and Obi Abili in Play House Credit: Robert Day
Ian Gelder in Definitely the Bahamas Credit: Robert Day
Kate Fahy in Definitely the Bahamas Credit: Robert Day

Martin Crimp has given the Orange Tree the most delightful 40th birthday present. Not only has he written a striking new play for his old stamping ground but he has wrapped his gift in a delightful old one.

Crimp writes in a minimalist fashion, mirrored by Sam Dowson's set designs, preferring oblique approaches to meaning, which emerges subtly but with considerable impact and continues to mature in the brain long after his plays have ended.

Both are gems in their different ways and Crimp directs four excellent actors, who arrive in pairs a generation apart.

Play House

Crimp fans will generally point to Attempts at her Life as his finest hour. Play House has many of the same qualities, its 13 short scenes making up a kind of deeply intriguing and satisfying mosaic that, when viewed from different angles, is capable of delivering a whole host of messages.

The play is a two-hander in which Lily James and Obi Abili play a young couple just moving in together.

Even in the first scene in which Simon showers Katrina with the kind of praise that is sickeningly gushing, a hint of darkness intrudes at the death.

From there, each scene is independent but gradually, one begins to see connections in a work that is heavily self-referential.

The activities that the couple indulge in are ordinary enough, dancing (brilliantly), attempting to conceive, doing DIY, fighting a mobile phone or exchanging chit chat, all tangentially building up the dual portrait while commenting on society today, at least to a degree.

The main topics are love, money and family across the generations, in other words all of life is encompassed in around 50 minutes of playing time.

By the end, we have learned nothing and everything about a pair who have dark secrets hidden just below the surface and definitely either love or hate each other, though it is not always easy to divine which.

Definitely the Bahamas

This was originally a radio play quarter of a century ago and the spirit is maintained by staging it as if from a radio studio of the period.

The one thing that is out of kilter is the acting, which is not only right on the money aurally but also visually, thanks to the impeccable efforts of Ian Gelder and Kate Fahy as an older married couple, supported by Lily James playing their attractive, young Dutch lodger.

This play, which lasts just over an hour and has a Pinteresque quality, is primarily constructed from the kind of inconsequentialities that inevitably comprise the conversations of those that have been married for decades.

Milly is a gossip who rarely stops her inane talking, while Frank has long since stopped listening. Their conversation is atypical as recollections differ and, worryingly, Milly habitually but unwittingly uses wrong words.

What builds is the story of the kind of lives led by many of the regular habitués of the Orange Tree. Days filled with excitement about banal non-events with lots of repetition, only enlivened by holidays and stories of the children.

As it happens, the drama in this piece erupts as a result of the activities of their seemingly perfect son Michael, who is never seen but certainly casts a big shadow.

The play culminates in a lengthy testimony from Marijke, the flighty Netherlander, delivered with great feeling and an impeccable Dutch accent by Miss James, who is already well on the way to becoming as accomplished a performer as her two more experienced colleagues—and that is some achievement.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

Are you sure?