When a theatre's box office pavilion sits on the ground floor of a packed out pub, you're reminded of the fact that London's actors and playwrights have historically tailored their work to attract economic capital.
For Lila Whelan, as for the John Websters and the Thomas Nashes that came before her, surviving in theatre is as much dependant on entrepreneurial savvy as it is about the play itself. The Deep Space is virtually impossible to ‘market’ with both success and accuracy. No one in the audience failed to see that, after sitting down to a play sponsored by Abel and Cole (mythical sons of Abraham and organic farming), receiving a flapjack and lemonade, and then witnessing two hours of domestic rape, infanticide and abandonment.
The theatre upstairs is square, with tiered seating in one corner. The set is a simple table and some chairs. The play has two characters that are onstage all the time – Sam, a young woman being kept in an institution that could be a police cell, and Caitlin, an older professional who claims to be ‘helping’ her – and four supporting characters.
The sting of The Deep Space is as much in its characters as in its Euripidean subject matter. Sam and Caitlin (played by the focussed and watchable Abbiegale Duncan and Lila Whelan), daddy’s girls both, try to understand each other through what they share just by virtue of being women. Whelan is a convincing foil to Duncan’s steadfast girlishness, with her equestrian posture and her brawny, expansive gestures. Their connection is such that some of their lines to the other seem to be addressed to themselves, creating the sense that each character is alone, as well as negotiating the terms of their relationship.
However, the real strength of The Deep Space is the sense of collaboration between Whelan and her director, Claude Girardi. The text unfurls naturally on the stage, without undue emphasis or unearned angst. The language iss predominantly colloquial but makes room for fascinating artistry too – the memory of a neighbour’s ridiculous Taz of Tazmania slippers draws our attention to the Tamazepam that follows on their heels; and after Sam is ‘fired’ ("three strikes and you’re out"), her council flat burns down.