The Ustinov’s new American season kicks off with Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter, a show cordoned off by warnings of its “explicit” nature. Yes, there is nudity and sex but without doubt the real drama comes from the messed up protagonists themselves.
The convention is that characters should develop, even grow, during a story. Here, they descend into their respective pits of self-delusion and indulgence. Playwright Matt (vulnerable, neurotic pill-popper) has a nigh-masochistic relationship with his “best friend”, alpha muck-up Davis, who flings identity-challenged “window whore” “Christina” into the mix while they’re travelling through Amsterdam.
Without a doubt, this superlative cast - IIan Goodman as Matt, Keir Charles as Davis and Sally Tatum as Christina - makes this piece sing. Each performance is near-faultless and utterly convincing. Charles’s Davis is the Refresher in the Coca-Cola, an engaging-cum-revolting character you’d be damned to meet in a bar. Tatum’s Christina beguiles and unravels, while lIan Goodman as Matt holds our sympathy throughout and carries off his final sad creepiness with utter credibility. Richard Beecham’s direction keeps a powerful pace where others might have slipped, and Simon Kenny’s design transports us without question from red light window to cheap hotel to an NYC bedsit.
If you can feel the “but” coming, you’re right. This play packs a promising punch in the first half, strewing seductive promises before you. Rapp says in his programme notes that the play is semi-autobiographical: he was the procurer; the girl a Greek medical student called Christina (and the men later both fell for a second girl). As in life, the important relationship in this play is between Matt and Davis, but after the first act, we never see them together again. Early in act two, Matt jokes that he’s having problems with the ending of his new play. On reflection, that wasn’t a joke.