Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Trading Faces

Richard Bevan
The Actors Ensemble
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
(2010)

Trading Faces publicity image

2 x 7 = 9.

No, I don't mean "plus" for that is the equation in Trading Faces produced by infidelities that the partners in four couples don't know about. Between them they make up three straight relationships, one lesbian, two between males and one a pair of just good friends.

Despite the brevity of the many short scenes that make up Trading Faces, the play tells us quite a lot about the personalities involved, including some idea of their domestic set-ups and employment as well as the state of their extra-marital entanglements. In the three 'married' couples (a fourth is supposed to be a purely convenient sexual relationship though clearly that is not what one of them wants), one partner only is unfaithful.

Although it opens with a scene of buggery, half hidden and dimly-lit, and there is a bit of kinky going on and fetishism, this is not a play that titillates its audience; it is a much more serious look at the different ways in which people find themselves in an attachment outside their 'official' one. It is not judgemental, except in the case of one real bastard.

Short scenes with constant relocation can be trying, especially in small venues when furniture removals seem to take longer than the action, but something about the style and timing with which it is carried out in Sam Rumbelow's production makes them seem natural punctuations between individual stories and cleverly, when one group of scenes has a natural link, he makes the change a scene in itself, the necessary alterations made by a character holding a mobile phone conversation. Instead of feeling the action interrupted we wait in anticipation to see what will be offered next or gradually find the separate strands are being drawn together.

Rumbelow gets excellent playing from all his cast. There's a very sensitive performance from Stacha Hicks as Sally, who can't quite cope with what she has got herself into, beautiful playing from Ben Buckstein and Nicholas A Newman as the gay couple and if Daniel Sommerford's Stewart and Louise Bailey's Fran seem a little histrionic, that fits their partnership: he's into role play and she's a would-be thespian.

The dénouement is perhaps a little sudden and too neatly packaged. The discovery of an infidelity can be much more traumatic than its concealment and we got only the initial explosion of feeling. I wanted to see more of that. Interestingly it is the gay couple who seem to show the greatest maturity in this situation, an understanding that is not constricting. Maybe there is something we can learn from that.

Run ends 6th November 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton