The days when a cheating spouse had to jog to the nearest public telephone box with a handful of coins in his pocket are long gone, and text messages rather than love letters have become the currency of illicit affairs, but in most other respects Peter Nichols’ 1981 destruction of an apparently fulfilling 25 year marriage has barely dated.
It’s far from the standard account of a relationship under threat, though. What begins as a conventional triangle – a predatory younger woman with a penchant for men old enough to be her father making a blatant play for picture restorer James right under the nose of his wife Eleanor – expands to include the couple’s alter egos, Jim (Oliver Cotton) and Nell (Samantha Bond).
Their clothes may be almost identical to those of their counterparts, but the interior thoughts they voice as they appear on Hildegard Bechtler’s minimalist stage are at odds with the words coming from the mouths of James and Eleanor.
Light-heartedly amusing at first, with Zoe Wanamaker’s singing teacher Eleanor secure in her marriage and the previously faithful James (Owen Teale) squirming with lust, guilt and adulterous confusion at the unexpected attention, David Leveaux’s strongly cast production turns much darker as Annabel Scholey’s unashamedly vampish Kate really gets her claws into him.
Swelling snatches of choral music accompany the affair, and Wanamaker, betrayed, is almost unbearably touching as she starts to crumble in the face of a force neither James – nor Jim – really wants to resist.
Duke of York’s, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4BG
Tube | Charing Cross / Leicester Square
Until 3rd August
£15.00- £57.50 (plus a few £10 day seats)
Photo: Johan Persson