Slipping (Stephen Joseph Theatre)
Claudine Toutoungi's complex piece about the tangle of sex, deceit and lies emanating from a surgeon's relationship with his patient is "maturely structured and excitingly written"
The first remarkable fact about Slipping by Claudine Toutoungi is that it arrived unsolicited at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and was immediately programmed for the next season. In these days of workshopping and developing in-house talent, that is increasingly unusual for a first full-length play. Admittedly, an earlier version had received a rehearsed reading at the Lark Play Development Center in Manhattan, so it was not entirely untried. However, the second remarkable fact is that it is such a maturely structured and excitingly written piece of work.
Sometimes almost too excitingly written and performed. When Modern Languages teacher Elena addresses a gathering of Sixth Form parents or lectures her Headteacher on the wrongs inflicted on her or prosthetic eye specialist Sean does his fund-raising turn for potential sponsors, the brilliance of writing and delivery almost takes precedence over the effectiveness and credibility of the scene.
But brilliant Slipping certainly is. It is based around the operation Elena is facing: the removal of an unseeing and disfiguring eye and the creation of a much more attractive-looking plastic replacement. Not the most promising of subjects, one would think, but Toutoungi uses it to chart the sexual relationship that develops between patient and specialist, weaving in their potentially self-destructive tendencies. She throws in everything from information on ophthalmic surgery to consideration of the importance of self-image in contemporary society, but manages to integrate it all neatly into eleven short scenes.
The coolness of Lucy Weller's designs (projections with scene numbers and titles and minimal furniture) and Matthew Twaites' anticipatory music anchors the feverish intensity of the emotion and, if some scenes threaten to head over the top, many more are affectingly true or very funny. Charlotte Harwood gives a bravura performance as Elena, her deceptions leading her into many different role-plays, her instability expressed through manic enthusiasm and tortured laughter. Christopher Harper appears at first to be a more balanced, even duller character, the dedicated professional, his turmoil expressed in hesitations, not outbursts, but, as the play progresses, his character reveals as much variety, as many surprises.
Henry Bell, directing, knows how to keep things simple, while at the same time being prepared to take risks. He paces the play perfectly, creates a highly charged relationship between the characters and is not afraid of stillness amid the turmoil.
Slipping continues at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough until 18 October 2014. For further information visit www.sjt.uk.com