Metro Arts, Sue Benner Theatre
May 9 – 19
“Poison” starts slowly. It is an afternoon in autumn in Holland (as we later discover) in a cemetery’s family room. Simple piano sounds sit over a soundscape of rain pouring. Emerging from the shitty weather, a woman reunites with a man who has travelled from France for the occasion. We gather there has been a separation of sorts but thanks to its enigmatic cat-and-mouse dialogue, for a long time we don’t know why they are there or much about the event causing graves to be relocated. Their relationship isn’t confirmed for a long time either, though the formal familiarity of their interaction suggests there is a significant (and fractured) backstory.
Early scenes make the audience work hard. Referring to events obliquely is perhaps more frustrating than intriguing for viewers who want to be taken on a journey, rather than being left to work hard in self-navigation towards realisation of its intended meaning. This is the script’s doing course, but something that is compounded by other early-show vaguery. There are lengthy silences for example, such as when He makes a coffee and we all wait through the discomfort of the silence.
The show is a two-hander, (though a number of other characters are referenced in the work we only ever meet two of them), but it is also work of two halves as, after their relationship and history are confirmed around the 30 minute mark, the second half settles beautifully as the cast of two presents raw, emotional and real drama. There is a staunch realism to the show that comes courtesy of its research into shared experiences of grief. Indeed, there is no neat and happy ending because sometimes things just end. There is, however, an immense sense of satisfaction that comes courtesy of the performances which effectively give the characters their distinctive voices.
The duo, He (Paul Bishop) and She (Elise) aren’t ever named which actually works; their story is bigger than that of their individual selves. And their meditation on grief as being similar in its difference makes for some thought-provoking theatre. Especially as He, Bishop gives a powerful, understated performance that resonates even when his interaction is over the telephone with an unseen character. Greig also gives a potent performance, conveying a strong sense of love despite the difficult moral dilemma and emotional turmoil they are facing.
Lot Vekemans’, “Poison”, speaks about what comes from tragedy so was always going to be a work far from folly. Over its moving 90 minute duration, we see the couple fight, cry, eat cheese and drink wine, but also reminisce, accuse, move forward and move on. And, as such, it stands tall in its sober ending, in contrast to its early real-time communication crawl.
This review is of the preview show of “Poison”.