Twin Primes

Fri 7th – Sat 15th August 2015

reviews

Fergus Morgan

at 18:55 on 15th Aug 2015

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Florence Read’s Twin Primes was awarded Best Script by playwright Lucy Kirkwood at the Oxford New Writing Festival earlier this year, and it is entirely obvious why. Read’s play – essentially just a series of short vignettes stitched together with only the merest hint of a thread running through them – is understated, intelligent, and enormously powerful.

A two-hander, adeptly performed by Catherine Piner and Alexander Stott, it manages to captivate an audience not through an arcing storyline or a shocking twist, but simply through the delicate, tantalising nature of each adroitly constructed conversation between two. Aside from the occasional scene appearing a little too contrived, a little too forced, Twin Primes is a masterpiece in subtly suspenseful writing, not dissimilar to early Pinter and his ‘comedies of menace’.

Some scenes are faintly humourous – a cannibal (Stott) and his meal (Piner) tentatively making idle small-talk feels like something straight from the pen of Martin McDonagh – but the majority are serious. The audience is typically uncertain as to the exact relationship of the two characters presented to begin with, and only as small hints are meticulously dropped do the exact nature of the scenes become clearer (although never is the audience entirely certain they have grasped the right end of the stick. Is Stott actually talking about cannibalism, or something more innocent? Is Piner’s shallow businessman-on-a-train really responsible for the suicide of a deaf lap-dancer?)

The professed commonality that links all scenes is apparently their characters’ need to communicate, but their ultimate failure to do so. Thus, Stott’s cannibal finds it impossible to comfortably broach the topic of his unconventional appetite; and thus a step-father and son at a football match find themselves unable to easily discuss the latter’s homosexuality (often this inability to communicate is presented as the product of an age-difference, or an emotional instinct to remain unconfessed). People find it difficult to talk about difficult things, seems to be Read’s message, although this simplification belies such a message’s power and pathos when it is delivered so emphatically.

Both Stott and Piner are commendably versatile. They are constantly in view. The stripped-back set consists of a variety of simple props and a washing-line of clothes arranged to the rear of the stage. Scott and Piner seize upon these as they change character from one scene to the next, then discard them again. It is a simple and interesting solution to a lack of technical space, and actually helps to suggest some unity between the vignettes.

Twin Primes is a fine production. It is well-acted and well-conceived, but it is Florence Read’s superb script that truly impresses. She is a writer of rare talent, who deserves attention.

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Katie Heath-Whyte

at 19:14 on 15th Aug 2015

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A washing line pegged with clothes and numbers adorns the Mint Studio at Greenside, an intimate black box space drawing a sizeable crowd. Two actors play eleven pairs of people as each number and clothes item is unpegged, and a different scene is introduced. These snapshots delve into the breadth and depth of human relationships, some fleeting and cursory, some intimate and painful. Winning Best Script at the 2015 Oxford New Writing Festival, Florence Read’s intelligent and perceptive piece is deserving of its accolade, and her play is deftly brought to life by its talented performers and skilful direction.

Brimming with energy from the start, actors Catherine Piner and Alexander Stutt move us through scenes of a wildly varying nature. Their ability to draw us into each unique pairing, funny, tense, or occasionally horrific, made for a succession of truly believable interchanges. The longer scenes were the best, as we could observe the connection between the two being unravelled. A scene between a hotel guest and her unlikely date was a triumph of ambiguity; disturbing and blackly comic. Piner and Stutt were also allowed extended monologues in certain scenes, Stutt’s drunkenly truthful best man speech and Piner’s frustrated wife of a dying husband displaying a dexterous handling of emotion both contained and released.

A lot of thought has clearly gone into Read’s writing, and her play is one which leaves many threads to be untangled. There is a constant urge to assemble meaning from the transitory vignettes, though Read never allows the audience to form easy conclusions, dangling possibilities before us with a tempting denial of satisfaction. It is a play which lingers in the mind, building characters which resonate in their humanity and need for interaction. The spaces between pairs, reflected in the numerical theme of the direction and the title, is brought to us in startling clarity in the fissures of broken and burgeoning relationships. Well worth a late night trip, this exciting piece of new writing exhibits the talent of its young creators and leaves its audience with much to think on.

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