Strong performances from Sean Campion and Niamh Cusack make up for the unbalance between the focus on two very different couples.
Owen McCafferty’s latest play shows the turning points in two very different couples relationships and how one event can change your outlook in life. Ultimately, on the surface it is about two couples having to adjust to suit their partner – but beneath this it is about them all growing as individuals and finding themselves outside the relationship they are in.
The play begins bitterly and angrily, capturing the audience’s attention with its straight talking attitude, as Tom (Sean Campion) and Joan (Niamh Cusack) have an intense discussion of what he may or may not have done with a woman he met at a bar. On the other side of this, we meet Tara (Ruta Gedmintas) and Peter (Matthew Lewis), whose unconventional career choice is putting a strain on the relationship. From then on, the audience is taken on a journey of regrets and exploring new possibilities for their lives.
Adam Penfold’s production is extremely blunt to the point where it doesn’t allow the audience to breathe and take time to figure things out for themselves and the abrupt cutting of music between scene changes do begin to irritate after a while. However, it is also extremely focused, poignant and filled with enough tension to keep the audience intrigued – particularly when Joan is shouting abuse and all the things that she wants to say to Tom but saying it to Peter instead is an explosion of energy thanks to Niamh Cusack’s performance and shows the constraint between her and Tom.
Niamh Cusack’s performance as Joan is electrifying and a fantastic portrayal of a woman who is frustrated and angry at a husband who doesn’t pay attention to her or the state of their relationship (10 years too long apparently) yet unable to communicate what she really wants.But her sense of vulnerability she gives out during her conversation with Peter suggests a softer side to this feisty character that is shown predominantly. Playing her husband Tom, Sean Campion’s performance is more straight forward – that his character is fed up of feeling like he hasn’t lived and is now regretting it, is subtle but heartfelt – made apparent during the heart to heart he has with Joan towards the end of the play and the audience can really feel for him.
On the other side, Ruta Gedmintas as Tara is increasingly frustrated with the way that she is living, uncomfortable with her boyfriend’s career and dreaming for a better life for herself. Gedmintas is utterly charming and it is a shame that she and Matthew Lewis aren’t used more often – which shows a problem with the structure and unbalance of focus of the play. Meanwhile, out of all the characters, Peter is the hardest to read and understand as an escort who is determined to live his life the way he chooses. Matthew Lewis plays him as constantly being on the defensive as his exchanges with both Joan (who pays him for sex for revenge on her husband) and Tara reveal, yet there are moments of expression that reveal his vulnerability. It is a blunt but effective performance that hints at a deeper story that the audience can only imagine.
The play has moments of biting humour, but it is also a play that many people can identify with, thanks to the contrasting personalities of the characters that offers a variety of outlooks on life and relationships. Structure wise, it would be interesting to hear and see more of how Peter and Tara’s relationship developed in the same level of detail that Tom and Joan’s is and to offer the younger couple a chance to shine more.
Overall, Unfaithful is a strong and powerful play with plenty to get audiences thinking, with Adam Penford’s production bringing the sharpness needed to keep the intensity and focus of the audience going.