There was a sign up on the way into the auditorium to warn audiences of bad language in this play. Well and good, not many turned away. The sign didn’t mention highly explicit sexual material of which there was an abundance albeit recalled in monologue rather than acted out, nevertheless it was a breathtaking evening as far as going as far you can go is concerned. It stretched the limits of what unsuspecting audiences might have to take.

Having said that, the play is a brilliant tragedy of mid-marriage angst, where the two actors, Don Wycherley and Catherine Walsh describe what it’s like to look forward to a special Saturday night in the small town in Ireland where they live.

They have been married for many years and have two children. He is accustomed to going out and getting plastered on a regular and stag basis with his mates although he is probably older than his so-called mates and she, having had the children, stays in more but now, on this special Saturday night, having lost weight in preparation, is rarin’ to go and hit the town with her husband, the way they used to do.

But new habits die hard as well, and he’s off early saying “See you later in Lavery’s.” So far so good, but he gets very tanked up too early and he has arranged to meet his wife at a place where all their friends will be. At this point in the play you are praying for damage limitation, how big an eedjit is he going to make of himself, his family, the whole shebang? The wife is unaware of all this and is simply looking forward to meeting him later.

Each actor relays bit by bit, the pieces of this nightmare evening jigsaw. The wife has a few vodkas to help her get going. Her agenda is to sleep with her husband that night and make love to him for the first time for a long time. His agenda is sinisterly different. He has his eye on what I think is called “a young one.” There were groans all through the audience as it got worse and worse, gasps between gales of laughter. At the end of the night the marriage is flushed down the toilet of parochial history.

This is a masterpiece of play. It is – as I have suggested – no more or no less than two actors giving monologues describing the same evening from their point of view. It follows in the tradition of great plays in this genre like The Faith Healer, The Weir, Port Authority. It is directed by Conor McPherson – the man himself – the set is a glittering piece of irony. What makes it so great is that given the genre, the writing is so vivid, you get to know all the people who live in the town and all the locales that are visited. A masterful tapestry.

Arts Theatre, Gt.Newport St. London WC2 (020 7836 3334)
Mon-Sat 7.45 pm. Mats Thu 3 pm. Sat 3.30 pm. Until Jan 11 2003