Human relationships are under the microscope in a new revival of two of Steven Berkoff’s short plays - Lunch and The Bow Of Ulysses.
In Lunch we see a woman sitting alone on a bench on a pier watching the sea. She is soon joined by a salesman who having spied her as he walked past decides to chat her up. This does’t go well as the man is nervy, nerdy and crass and to begin with he makes a dog’s dinner of it.
Incredibly given his vulgarity, she responds although throughout they veer between lust, hate, rage and excitement, not just for each other but for life itself.
Their exchanges are both aggressive and vulnerable - and in the case of the man, it is very physical - and it’s clear they are both lonely and desperate to be wanted and needed. The poetry in the dialogue is superb and takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions as the couple’s exchanges take place.
Fast forward 20 years and Berkoff revisits this couple in The Bow Of Ulysses. They are still together but wondering what on earth it is that keeps them so.
In fact given the language of the first play it is a wonder they didn’t just leave after the first encounter. However as they sit on the same bench where they met all those years before and with some distance between them, we discover their relationship has produced children and a loveless marriage in which they both felt they had to “save” the other - presumably from the drudge, boring and lonely lives they previously led.
The pace slows right down, both in the physical nature and the words. They sit on the bench throughout, pouring scorn on the other in a series of monologues and using some pretty hateful, vengeful and spiteful words, not only to describe their partner but their lives and what “could have been”.
It is here particularly that the cramped and confined space of the Trafalgar Studios really comes into its own adding to the claustrophobic nature of their relationship and the feeling that neither can escape.
It is beautifully and skilfully acted by both Emily Bruni as the woman and Shaun Dooley as the man. The man’s physicality contrasts perfectly with the woman’s languidness with both actors letting Berkoff’s poetry shine through.
And while it may be a somewhat intense 90 minutes it is a powerful, honest and fascinating piece, well directed by Nigel Harman.
Lunch and The Bow Of Ulysses is on at the Trafalgar Studios, Whitehall until November 5. Tickets from £19.50. Visit www.atgtickets.com or call the box office on 0844 871 7632 for full listings.