It might be grossly impertinent to say so, but David Williamson could learn a lot from Tom Holloway’s And No More Shall We Part, the title of which may, or may not, be inspired by that of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ 11th studio album. It has all the heart, drama, dynamics and humanity he, presumably, recently attempted with At Any Cost?, but which he and co-writer Mohammed Khadra succeeded in drowning at birth, by way of the most patronising, didactic approach and offensive economic rationalist imperative.
This is, in so many ways, a near-to-perfect theatrical experience from, as it were, the bottom-up. The writing is acute, even if its trademark device of unfinished sentences is overly exploited to the brink of annoyance. The cosy Stables stage has been deployed optimally, better than ever, by Griffin Theatre Company artistic director Sam Strong and designer Victoria Lamb.
Practically every centimetre has been utilised, and ingeniously, too: a doorframe at the top of the stairs defines a hallway and alludes to other rooms, other parts of a house, home and lives; intimacies and secrets accumulated over a lifetime, just as ice cream-makers and fondue sets consume the garage space.
A gauze curtain and Verity Hampson’s precise lighting design hides a 50s vintage back room behind the lonely deathbed, making for an expansive, wholistic set, a veritable suburban home away from home. And the subtle fades of lights calibrate the undulations of mood beautifully. This is award-worthy craft indeed.
And what about the craft on stage in this double-hander, featuring Linda Cropper and Russ Kiefel? It’s superb. Well, ok, my partner had a point when she said she could “see the script” during some tracts from Kiefel, but this might be because it’s early in the season and he fears a “moment”. I think so, because, for the most part and from the get-go, his every expression and eye movement seems like a tailor-made, meticulously rehearsed nuance of character, part-and-parcel of the personality of Don, an awkward, emotionally struggling (as you do, when your beloved life partner’s got terminal cancer and has decided to take life and death into her own hands), lumbering, soft-centred, big-hearted ‘prince’ of a man. And Cropper is a tower of unfaltering strength, both as Don’s wife, Pammy, and as an actor in what might well prove the role of her career.
It’s not at all difficult to discern how or why this script won an AWGIE, last year for best play. It’s a truly great play. A tough one (it’s no stage version of a chick-flick, I assure you). A tear-jerking one (you should’ve heard the sobs, seen the tissues and down-turned mouths, and that was probably just the guys). Almost a momentous one. It’s overarching triumph is not even that it’s so affecting, however: it’s that it draws you in so tightly, so closely, to the action, the situation, the circumstances, that you can almost reach out and touch the torment, experience it, live through it, not so much vicariously as actually.
It’s as near as dammit as drama gets to reality and about as close to the bone as one might dare to go, as writer, director, actor, or audience member. Suspension of disbelief is in no way required. And No More Shall We Part will take you in as surely and vigorously as a big, black hole. You won’t emerge quite the same. As another bear of an actor once said (to paraphrase): it’ll make you want to be a better man. Woman. Partner. Person.
Definitely in the ‘if you only see one play this year’ category. (That means you, David.) Bravo!
The details: And No More Shall We Part plays the SBW Stables Theatre until September 3. Tickets on the venue website.