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Opposite of Claustrophobic (Manchester)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Venue: Taurus
Where: Manchester

Rob Johnston’s modest two-hander takes place in a suburban Manchester kitchen. Axe-wielding wife Ann (Natalie Husdan) happens upon inept burglar Joe (Anthony Crank), reading the letter she has written for her husband. See, Ann is unhappily married: What’s preventing her from leaving is the fact she has been house bound for two years (Ann’s agoraphobic, hence the title). As Ann puts down her axe - and sticks on the kettle - a strange intimacy starts to develop between her and Joe.

Anyone who saw Human Habitation will attest to Johnston’s gift for slow burning tension and deadpan dialogue (Joe: ‘I don’t climb drainpipes - I prefer unlocked doors.’) Director Ian Townsend (also a playwright, best known for Granny Must Die, seen at the 24:7 Festival a few years ago) clearly loves actors and draws nuanced performances from Husdan and Crank. There’s an easy chemistry between the two, and they add quiet tenderness to the ambiguous ending. Husdan is particularly good, blessed with soulful, expressive eyes and a naturally warm stage presence.

Some elements of the script require a suspension of disbelief; it’s doubtful whether an agoraphobic would display such steely self-control when confronted by a criminal in her house. Also, there’s no reference to what treatment or medication Ann might be receiving, if any.

But it seems churlish to criticise a play which proudly wears its heart on its sleeve: I could have happily spent another hour in the company of these two loveable misfits.   

- Steve Timms


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