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A CurtainUp London London Review
Mouth to Mouth

Forever alone, that's our lot, and try as we might we can't change it. We hitch up with someone, fool ourselves we've cracked it, give life to other desolate beings but we are still alone. -- Gompertz

Lindsay Duncan
Lindsay Duncan (Photo: Ivan Kyncl )
Kevin Elyot's first play My Night with Reg was one of the first to look at the impact of AIDS on a group of friends. In his fourth play, Mouth to Mouth, Elyot takes as his central character, a writer, who is seriously ill and who spends the whole play trying to get someone to listen to him, but who instead only ends up listening to everyone else. Elyot lets his characters divulge in pairs, with the writer, Frank (Michael Maloney) linking them all. Elyot's gift is for dialogue which is deliciously funny, reproduced with the exact detail gathered by an attentive observer with a wry sense of the ridiculous. However the humour is only the surface, underneath these frivolous layers are the serious issues of loss and love, the kind of loss that makes life seem not worth living.

The play opens with a scene which would be chronologically towards the end of the play. At the end of the play, we return to this scene, now with understanding of what has gone before. Frank is friendly with Laura (Lindsay Duncan), who is married to a dull dentist Dennis (Peter Wight). Laura's fifteen year old son, Phillip (Andrew McKay) is her whole raison d'être. Dennis' brother, who is twelve years his junior, Roger (Barnaby Kay) and his new wife Cornelia (Lucy Whybrow) come to a party with Frank. Phillip has just returned from an exchange trip to Spain where he had his first sexual encounter with a girl. Frank has lunch with his doctor, the flamboyantly camp and very funny, Gompertz (Adam Godley). At a swimming pool Frank gave Phillip mouth to mouth resuscitation. I do not want to give away any more of the plot, except to say that Frank is everyone's confidant but never finds the wherewithal to get help with his own predicament.

Lindsay Duncan gives the strongest performance as the woman whose child has become more important to her than her marriage, than a career, and whose life is eventually shattered by loss. Her uncovering of her son's secrets through analysis of the photos from Spain is a piece of persistent detection. She is at her most radiant when she dances the tango with her son while Frank and Dennis look on with envy. The progress of the play sees her change from an animated, attractive woman to one who is like a child, in terrible pain and who stammers or sits in silence, lost in her own thoughts. Michael Maloney's self effacing writer is essentially a passive character and not totally unsympathetic. Andrew McKay, looking older than fifteen, is not a particularly convincng young Adonis. Of the others, Adam Godley's lanky, frenetic doctor has all the best lines as he gossips about the celebrities in the restaurant and tries to decide whether to eat Cuttlefish mousse or Dwarf Corn Mulch. Lucy Whybrow's Cornelia is a curious mixture of interior designer and naiveté. Peter Wight is solid as the dentist who, pushed out by his own son, seeks consolation with Marigold, his nineteen year old dental nurse.

Ian Rickson's direction places Frank on the outskirts of the group scenes, almost invisible except when he is needed to listen to everyone's secrets. It is as though his illness is making him fade away. The set is on plain wooden floorboards, a turning circle, three separate scenes to make up the kitchen, restaurant and sitting room with impressive column swathes of blue sky. The play too comes full circle as Laura confesses to Frank what he really needs to say to her. Stephen Warbeck's specially composed music adds atmosphere.

This is a beautifully crafted play which tackles the sadness of human emotion without sentiment. It has wit and verve but with an undercurrent of the pain of hopeless desire.

Written by Kevin Elyot
Directed by Ian Rickson

Starring: Lindsay Duncan, Michael Maloney
With: Adam Godley, Peter Wight, Andrew McKay, Lucy Whybrow, Barnaby Kay.
Design: Mark Thompson
Lighting Design: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Design: Paul Arditti
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Choreographer: Quinny Sacks
Running time: One hour 25 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 10th March 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 9th February 2001 performances at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1

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