Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's Lidless transfers to the Trafalgar Studio 2 with impeccable credentials, having won a Fringe First Award at Edinburgh in 2010 and the Yale Drama Series Award in 2009. The grim legacy of Guantanamo Bay provides the driving force throughout the play, from Alice's mistreatment of Bashir during her time as a US Army interrogator, to their PTSD-fuelled reunion.
Fifteen years after leaving the Army, Alice is living an apparently idyllic life as a florist in rural USA with her ex-junkie husband, Lucas, and asthmatic 14-year-old daughter, Rhiannon. Until, that is, Bashir turns up, dying of hepatitis and demanding that Alice donate him her liver. Alice, her mind numbed by the pills she took to get her through her work at "Gitmo", at first doesn't remember him, or what she did to him, but when realisation comes to her, the memories devastate them all.
The acting is forceful, the direction by Steven Atkinson crisp, the subject matter and symbolism compelling. So why does this production feel so uninvolving? The action takes place in a cube in the centre of the space, with neon lights defining the acting area and the audience seated in the round. In theory this should bring the audience right into the heart of the piece, but instead, with the audience lit up by the stage lighting, it just serves to detract from any sense of engagement. There's certainly no lack of conviction in the accomplished cast, but the acting is occasionally too overwrought, even for a subject as serious as sexual abuse, so that lines such as "I want you to give me your liver" result in a ripple of guilty giggling in the audience rather than the shock that more subtle delivery would evoke. Less as usual is more. Finally, when the consequences of Alice's abuse of Bashir are revealed one after the other, the resolution devolves into soap-like coincidence as a suitably-matched liver becomes unexpectedly and tragically available.
This play should feel emotionally powerful and leave audiences drained. Rather, this is an interesting and thought-provoking piece, but also heavy-handed in places and not quite as desperately important as it would like to be.
- Carole Gordon