Right Now (Bush Theatre)

Catherine-Anne Toupin’s surreal, erotic drama arrives in London

We have all experienced neighbours from hell: clomping around upstairs; having late-night parties; the enforced pleasantries on the doorstep. But the people in the flat across the hall from Alice and Ben in Catherine-Anne Toupin‘s surreal, erotic drama take nightmare neighbours to a whole other level. It’s not that Juliette, Gilles and their son Francois are loud, or rude, or even nasty. It’s just that they are really, really weird.

Ben and Alice have recently moved in and decorated, but Alice is still being haunted by the sound of a baby crying. They lost a child not long ago and Alice, perennially in a dressing gown, barely leaves the flat. So when Juliette and her troupe turn up wanting to nose round the new pad, she has nowhere to go. Soon they’ve managed to wangle a recurring invite for a soiree where they drink wine and share life stories. But these evenings quickly turn very dark: books get thrown around the place, partners are swapped and suddenly we’re not actually sure who is living in which flat.

Toupin's Québécois play provokes the kind of awkward laughter you’d get from an audience watching Entertaining Mr Sloane. In fact, Right Now has more than a trace of Joe Orton’s impish humour: "Oh yes, mama, tell us about your lingerie," says Francois, gleefully, to his mother at one point. Nothing here quite fits: the neighbours, the flat, the absent baby, the husband and wife. There’s a deep, uncomfortable sense of threat that pervades the entire piece, along with a lot of underlying sexual tension.

Toupin demonstrates great skill in creating a foreboding build up, and she’s very good at the darkly funny dialogue, which is delivered with excellent timing in particular by the deep-voiced Maureen Beattie as Juliette. But ultimately the play tries too hard to mess with our heads and the ending is unsatisfying, finishing with a frustrating 'who knows what is actually real' denouement.

What the play does do well, however, is portray the anxiety and trauma of postnatal depression. Alice’s struggle with her body and her mind after both having a child and then quickly losing one is palpable and believable. But where plays like The Mother and The Father position the audience firmly within the minds of their protagonists, here all the laboured oddity distances us from Alice.

Michael Boyd's staccato production is very good and punctuated by intense classical music. He really emphasises the humour, and the climactic scene, where everything goes completely bonkers, is an absolute delight. Lindsay Campbell is also superb as the unsettled Alice, who is lost and helpless down a rabbit hole that never seems to end.

Right Now runs at the Bush Theatre until 16 April.