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All Tomorrow's Parties
Published on Thursday, 14 July 2011

4 stars

Underground Venues - Pauper's Pit
10, 13-14 Jul, 5:00pm-5:45pm; 20 Jul, 9:15pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

It's the night of Michael's 40th birthday - and as the music fades and the empties pile up, truth comes out in ale.  Infidelities are exposed, secrets are revealed, and a long-standing marriage creaks in the turmoil.  It sounds like a two-hander from a third-rate soap opera - but it proves to be much more than that, thanks to some unexpectedly powerful acting and a thoroughly credible script.

There's a whole lot of ambiguity to this sparky relationship, which hovers on the cusp between cruelty and affection.  He's drunken, pugnacious, dismissive at first; she's filled with up-tight emotion, infinitely more expressive than if she'd wailed and smashed the bottles over his head. They both have secrets - some kept from each other, some they share - and they're history's revealed in a series of short flashbacks, which provide well-judged relief from the tension of the quarrel. Three of the vignettes are almost cloyingly sweet. But beware the fourth...

And that's why this play really isn't a soap opera. It never rakes over the coals of things we already knew; the couple's troubled back-story comes out in well-measured doses. I was breathless for the next revelation, but motivated not by titillation, but by genuine concern. There's a little of all of us in both of the characters, and Nick Brelsford's finely-tuned writing achieved the difficult task of making me root for both sides.

It feels a bit mean to mention this, but it's my responsibility to report that neither of the two actors quite knew their lines: it didn't matter all that much, but when they were otherwise so very professional, it's a shame that the basics weren't quite done in time. And the script's occasional lapses into profanity - though completely justified - felt a little forced, as though there were invisible quote marks around the naughty words. Commit to those lines, or cut them out: there's no middle way.

When all's said and done though, this play travels well-trodden paths, but navigates them almost perfectly. Angela Buttrill and Murray Taylor inhabit their characters with true conviction, and they're supported by understated yet compelling direction. What's more, at 40-odd minutes, they have the wisdom to bring down the curtain before we tire of watching another couple's quarrel. Highly recommended.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.