Something Different

Keith Singleton
Tinderbox Theatre Company
The Mac, Belfast

Poster image for Something Different Credit: Tinderbox Theatre Company
Keith Singleton as Martin in Something Different Credit: Carrie Davenport
Nicky Harley as Susan in Something Different Credit: Carrie Davenport
Nicky Harley and Keith Singleton Credit: Carrie Davenport
Keith Singleton and Nicky Harley Credit: Carrie Davenport
Nicky Harley and Keith Singleton Credit: Carrie Davenport
Keith Singleton and Nicky Harley Credit: Carrie Davenport

When the spark flickers in a relationship and threatens to go out, what’s to be done? The solution to reigniting the conjugal flame in Keith Singleton’s Something Different at The Mac, Belfast is a surprising one.

Martin and Susan live in cosy, if unexciting, familiarity and companionship in “a humble home in a standard suburb”. In their late thirties, early forties and with the endless clubbing of their twenties an already distant memory, deadening routine is now their only constant companion along with a growing sense of dissatisfaction and the suspicion that perhaps ‘The One’ is not enough. “Like the seasons,” Martin ruefully ruminates, “relationships change”.

Singleton’s two-hander roots itself in a brace of well-worn comedic tropes—middle-age marriage and mid-life crisis—and gleefully twists them into an anarchic, often frenetic front-cloth comedy of sexual mores and manners. Not for him, though, the time-honoured, painting-by-numbers options of counselling, marriage guidance or the clandestine affair as means to dispel domestic ennui.

Instead, he lobs the pin-less grenades of consensual open relationships, polyamory, polyfidelity, throupledom and assorted other amorous templates (detailed in the programme booklet’s “Helpful Glossary”) into hearth and home to explode the conviction that sex and love are indivisible and exclusive.

As the loved-up, loved-out couple who take sexual liberation to extremes and create an anything- (seemingly everything-) goes sex club in their front room, Singleton’s Martin and Nicky Harley’s Susan—natural comedians both—play against each other with all the ease of a well-honed double act. Two innocents who venture into an adult world, they are a modern-day Terry and June who pass through the looking glass into the world of the Marquis de Sade, Weimar Cabaret and Erica Jong in a more accommodating and liberal-minded age.

Bringing a deftly handled blend of silliness and subtlety to both relationship and situation, Singleton and Harley never lose sight of their own thinly-disguised vulnerabilities even as the thrill of liberation excites them on to greater, previously forbidden, excesses of “freedom, fetish and fun”.

It all makes for a riotous, laugh-out-loud hour, albeit its frenetic quality leaves one ultimately unsure of its point and purpose. The throwaway framing device of Martin and Susan directly addressing the audience, culminating in a beautifully executed, swiftly curtailed invitation to a Question-and-Answer session at the evening’s end, hints, too glancingly, at consequences and truths gleaned from the adventure of taking a path less travelled. Too canny a writer to resort to trite moralising, Singleton’s ambivalence leaves the audience to make its own mind up. The result is something tinged with becoming, thoughtful, poignancy.

Patrick J O’Reilly’s freewheeling direction is stamped through with his signature exuberance and physicality, Saoirse O’Shea’s costumes and set deftly blending theatrical red curtain, Ann Summers and neon-accented fetish gear, while Larry McGowan’s occasionally too imposing original music and sound design is nonetheless adroitly amphetamine-laced.

Reviewer: Michael Quinn

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