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A CurtainUp London Review
Christopher Hampton explains in the programme that Treats was written as a counter to his work on the translation of Ibsenís A Dollís House where at the end of the play Nora walks away from Torvald. He had started thinking about the number of women knowingly in destructive relationships who do nothing to leave them. This puts the rather puzzling end to Treats in a context. The title alludes to a proposal for sex which a man calls "a treat" but it also about women allowing men to treat them badly.
The plays opens in a very dramatic fashion. Reporter Ann (Billie Piper) is living with her new boyfriend, the solid if somewhat dull Patrick (Laurence Fox), when there is the sound of breaking glass. Her ex boyfriend Dave has broken in to the flat demanding his possessions and his girlfriend back. Dave has been on location in Iraq where he worked as a journalist. Dave asks himself round to dinner à trois, attempts to forge a Boys Own alliance with Patrick but is still rejected by Ann despite his determination to undermine Annís relationship with Patrick. While Patrick may be rather uninteresting, Dave is a nightmare. He has a series of other women, married women, he takes drugs, tells lies, tries to borrow money from Patrick and treats Ann badly.
Treats does little more, albeit very eloquently, than chronicle the shifting relationships as Ann chooses, falters, and seems drawn back into a decision to be bruised by Dave. The writer does not give us any explanation as why Ann acts in this way. At the end of the play we see her cowed, frightened, tear-stained and back with the abusive Dave. She does explain to Patrick midway through the play why she is ending their relationship. She says that he used Patrick as a way of ending the relationship with Dave. Patrick is obviously very hurt and his attempt to stage a "Dave style" comeback doesnít have the desired effect.
The performances are what makes this play worthwhile. All three are so real that if I met them in the street tomorrow, I would think they were Ann, Patrick and Dave.
Billie Piper sounds very different from her usual accent. Here she is a posh girl, a Sloane Ranger, but believable nonetheless. She starts the play exasperated at Daveís unwanted attention and ends it subdued with mascara smudged from tears. She is really a very good actor. As she stands fore stage (each actor has a solo scene the audience side of the stage curtain lit in those emotive horizontal stripes of light and shade) we see her distress and her inability to put her own welfare first.
Kris Marshall has all the bravado of the overtly confident Dave. Tall, attractive, opportunistic, he is an emotional terrorist, sleeping with the wives of his friends. He explains his reluctance to get married because among his married friends all he sees is "easy pickings" He tells Patrick that "There are more important things in life than women" as he tries to enlist him in a powerplay against Ann.
Laurence Fox gives his best performance yet. He has a very attractive deep voice which seems to crack and is so effective on stage. I have seen him grow in acting skill and complexity and this part allows him to be more than a typical Englishman caricature. Patrick is awkward with girls. When Ann is ditching him, the director has given him some nervous eczema, so that he lifts his trousers and scratches his leg, unaware of how ungainly it makes him look to Ann.
Laurence Boswell excels as director of this kind of relationship. In the dinner party scene he positions the three at a small dining table made for two. Ann has to sit high up on a stool flanked by the two men on dining chairs. She looks exposed, uncomfortable and outnumbered. In between the scenes the music is chosen well, great classical numbers or the very best of pop with lyrics about love and throwing it away. The set is an elegant a white walled box set of a flat, initially minus Daveís posters which are reinstated at the end.
We are told that Billie Piper suggested that Hamptonís play sits as well in 2007 as it did in 1976. This is true. Treats is a very well acted play about attraction and why women fall for bad men.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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