Frankie Goodway reviews the opening night of Contractions at the Burton Taylor studio.
The first night of Contractions at the Burton Taylor was rather excellent, when all is said and done – and all was said and done at a terrific pace, both actresses ploughing through the script so quickly that a fifty minute performance was finished in forty-five. There were occasional line fluffs, no doubt a result of first night nerves, but they did little to mar a couple of otherwise flawless performances from Charlotte Salkind and Lucy Fyffe.
Contractions tells the story of a nameless company’s employee, Emma, through the various meetings she has with her manager to discuss the company policy on office relationships. Fyffe and Salkind bring out the pure comedy of the first couple of scenes brilliantly, bouncing around the legalese terms of Emma’s contract with just enough inflection to let the audience get the joke, while the characters don’t. Fyffe in particular perfectly captures the precise level of impersonal compassion that the repeated phrase ‘duty of care’ implies in her voice and mannerisms, providing a great foil for Salkind’s more emotional scenes. Indeed, the role of Emma becomes emotional rather quickly in this short piece as the comedy takes a dark turn, and it’s a testament to Salkind’s characterisation that she remains believable and sympathetic across the whole play.
One of the most striking elements of the production is its use of space – this is a show that has clearly considered how to use the Burton Taylor to their advantage, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the studio used so effectively. The office furniture is starkly white against the black of the studio, a point emphasised by the simple but clear lighting choices that have been made. The play is set up in traverse which adds a great deal to the adversarial tension present in the play. Strangely enough the traverse set-up also helps the audience when the comedy becomes pitch black, as it feels a lot easier to laugh or gape when you can see someone else on the other side doing the same thing – thank you, chap in the green trousers. I’d advise choosing the middle seats of either side – your neck will get some training in for Wimbledon, yes, but you’ll benefit from seeing the most of both actresses’ performances.
There is nothing in the set, lighting, sound or direction of this production that needs improvement. It is undeniably funny, exploiting every joke in a script that is very economical and efficient with its language, and equally horrifying. The few problems that peppered this performance, the odd line missed or stumbled over, a few seconds of unplanned silence, are sure to disappear once the run gets going. I suspect a part of each performance will depend on its audience – mine was, for the most part, more disposed to laughter than tears – so whatever ‘black comedy’ means to you, you’ll find it here.
Four stars ****