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A CurtainUp London Review
"You think you're the only one in pain eh
The only one who has pain and grief
Your drama
Everything was always your drama
From day one
Your son
Your loss
Your suffering." — HE
Claire Price as She (Photo: The Other Richard)
Lot Vekemans won the 2010 prize for Poison as the best Dutch play that year. In a translation by Rina Vergano, Poison is directed by Paul Miller at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond. It is set in the waiting room of a cemetery where this couple, known only as He (Zubin Varla) and She (Claire Price) have been summoned about plans to move the grave of their child, their son Jacob who died ten years before in a road accident. They can only speculate about why but she suggests that there has been toxicity found in the ground and 200 graves have to be disinterred.

Theirs was a mixed marriage: he is a Frenchman and she is Dutch. He has returned to Normandy where he appears to have started life again with a new wife, rather too readily from her point of view. She has remained in Holland and is full of resentment at the way he has responded to the death of their son. He is a journalist and is writing a book about his experience. She is still coping with the emotions of the double loss of her son and her husband. She is angry that he can share his feelings with the world via his book but didn't have the gumption to see things out with her and at the insensitivity of his leaving her, completely unannounced, at ten past seven on New Year's Eve 1999. That time and date is written in her mind as if it is were tattooed on her arm. Of course the whole world would have been partying for the celebration of the new millennium but she found herself totally alone. To account for the length of time between the writing of the play and its being shown in London, the 1999 date has been changed to 2007.

Promoting the play are these lines,

"We're ...
A man and a woman
Who've lost a child
Who first lost a child
And then... each other
Or maybe I should say:
Who first lost a child, then themselves and then each other."
It can therefore be no surprise where the play is taking us.

When she arrives, she's smiley, nervously so. He is more austere, closed. They don't seem at all intimate, even in the past. She tackles the situation first by saying, "I'm finding this difficult!" It emerges that they haven't been in touch for ten years although we know that they are now divorced. While she blames him, he blames her, "For wallowing in her grief, like it was a warm bath."

Her grief has turned to anger against him. My involvement in the play stops here because from quite early on I couldn't believe in Claire Price and Zubin Varla as a couple, nor as two people who have shared any form of intimacy, let alone had conceived and loved a child together. Too little of the text is devoted to talking about the child and their memories of their son so we, the audience, cannot share that reality. It is all about his loss not his life. Towards the end of the play after much animosity and argument, he offers to hold her and from my viewpoint I could see her straining, trying to rest her head on his shoulder as she is so much taller than he is and looking awkward, rather than comforted by the embrace.

Claire Price and Zubin Varla can both act but in my opinion, matching them as a couple is a casting decision which doesn't work.

This play may well speak to those who have lost a child in the way it cannot speak to me and my heart goes out to them, the real parents.

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Poison by Lot Vekemans
Directed by Paul Miller
Starring: Zubin Varla, Claire Price
Design: Simon Daw
Lighting Design: Mark Doubleday
Composer and Sound Design: George Dennis
Running time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 8940 3633
Booking to 2nd December 2017
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 6th November 2017 performance at the Orange Tree Theatre. Richmond, Surrey TW9 2SA (Rail/Tube: Richmond)
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