The Royal Court’s 50th anniversary season of the English Stage Company taking up residence there gets off to a cracking start with actress-turned-playwright Stella Feehily’s second play, O Go My Man, premiering under the direction of former Court artistic director Max Stafford-Clark. In this co-production with Out of Joint, the new writing touring company he now runs, he proves once again both his remarkable instinct for finding plays that take the pulse of contemporary life and relationships, and also the thrillingly alert way he stages them, alive to every nuance and subtlety of the variously harsh and selfish ways people treat each other.
In this sparky drama, by turns brutally funny and perceptively painful, Feehily looks at two overlapping sets of fragmenting relationships, and the fall-out that results when troubled foreign correspondent Neil (Ewan Stewart) leaves his 16-year marriage to publisher Zoe (Aoife McMahon) for 34-year-old actress and model Sarah (Susan Lynch), who in turn is walking out on a ten-year relationship with 40-year-old photographer Ian (Paul Hickey).
While there are inevitable echoes of Patrick Marber’s Closer in the way it reveals the intricate and intimate emotional pain they inflict on each other, Feehily’s play has its own urgent and bracing take on the souring of relationships when one partner chooses to leave, but the other is still clinging desperately to love. “You were supposed to love me, you said it in front of sixty of our friends and family,” cries Zoe, as Neil walks out on her. The title of the play – an anagram of monogamy – looks at people walking away from what were supposed to be lifelong commitments. But what does that mean anymore?
Just as another actress-playwright Amelia Bullmore’s Mammals last year (and now about to begin a national tour) provided an aching portrait of a fracturing modern relationship to become one of my plays of the year, O Go My Man is a haunting and resonant piece that covers similar territory. As staged by Stafford-Clark with a bracing fluidity on Es Devlin’s appropriately temporary feeling plywood interiors, it is acted to minutely-calibrated perfection by a superb cast that also includes a deliciously funny Mossie Smith as a voice of conscience and practicality in assorted cameos, as well as Denise Gough, Sam Graham and Gemma Reeves.