by Laura Kressly
Penelope Skinner’s 2010 play feels like it’s bursting at the seams with damaged – and damaging – people, but there’s only four of them. Cassie works for a feminist charity and can barely contain her rage against the patriarchy. Her flatmate Rose believes in fairies, numerology and fate but is less concerned with holding down a job and paying rent. Mark owns a flat in Chiswick, works in marketing and is capable of extraordinarily disgusting misogyny and casual homophobia. Then there’s his flatmate Tim, a uni mate who wants to be a carer and is grieving the recent death of his grandmother. The combination of these four personalities could easily lend itself to sitcom-type comedy, but instead they create a perfect storm of dramatic chaos after Rose and Mark start sleeping together.
There are many funny moments, though more often than not they’re close to the bone. Laughter at Cassie attempts to explain to Rose that Mark’s failure to return her calls probably doesn’t mean he’s dead in a ditch somewhere segues into the possibility that she may be mentally ill. Cassie’s feminist soundbites she hurls at Mark’s casual misogyny are funny in their predictability, but his behaviour absolutely deserves them. There are others that are much darker, and Skinner is adept at tone switching. She also skilfully keeps a few steps ahead of her audience and largely escapes predictability, even though much of the story’s events are far from the stuff of everyday life.
The cast, though all-white, make an excellent ensemble. George Fletcher is an infuriating and despicable Mark who’s true intentions are never quite revealed. Does he genuinely care for Cassie, or does he just want to fuck her? Is he actually a decent chap at heart, or is her rotten all the way through? Callum Sharp as Tim is his vulnerable and insecure foil, begging the question as to how these two totally opposite personalities are able to be friends. Isabel Della-Porta is a worldly, wise and no-fucks-giving Cassie, who similarly contrasts manic pixie dreamgirl Katie Buchholz as Rose.
Georgie Staight’s direction is sharp and concise, though there are some stylised transitions that are over-long. Paired with Skinner’s writing, no scene feels gratuitous – even if the overarching story prompts disbelief in just how untenable it is. This is a punchy production of a play that doesn’t yet feel too dated, as several of its themes – grief, mental health and abuse – are still all too relevant.
Eigengrau runs through 22 September in London.
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