Substantive [by Tim George]
A couple sit on a couch, enjoying the evening. A plain of glass shatters. And then, so does everything else.
Written by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) and directed by Alistair Browning, Treats is a bruising comedy about three people who want (and need) different things from each other. Dave, a journalist, has just come back from assignment in Iraq, and is determined to take up with his girlfriend again. Sick of his drinking and womanising, Ann wants nothing to do with him. Dancing around the nuclear disaster which is Dave and Ann’s relationship, her new boyfriend Patrick tries to mend bridges, and sows the seeds for his destruction.
The cast are uniformly excellent. Amber-Rose Henshall convinces as a woman who is making a earns, determined attempt at breaking away from her old life. Simon Ward, as her clueless boyfriend, milks laughs out of the smallest background action. The biggest laughs come from his attempts to be the ‘adult’ in the room, which always end up with him impotently on the couch or in the kitchen. Jeff Szusterman, as Dave, is unafraid to make Dave unlikeable. Whether it is denigrating Patrick for cooking, or slapping Ann when she takes the initiative, he is great. Dave, with his one liners and propensity for contrarian arguments, could come off as a cartoon boor, but Szusterman grounds Dave’s irascibility in weakness. Ultimately, Dave needs Ann more than he is willing to admit, and his barely suppressed rage toward the fairer sex masks how completely lost he is without one under his thumb.
Limited to the claustrophobic confines of Ann and Patrick’s (formerly Dave’s) living room, Treats is an interesting production for more reasons than Hampton’s wry barbs, which the cast volley at each other with the accuracy of veteran snipers. Interspersed throughout their various confrontations, Browning constructs a series of near-silent vignettes in which each character, alone in the apartment, is able to let their guard down. When they do not have engage in verbal combat with each other, they are able to finally be vulnerable. Even Dave, who presents himself as the most ‘together’ of the characters, is susceptible — at the climax, when Ann has chased a fleeing Patrick out of the apartment, there is a protracted, agonising beat in which Dave is finally alone. Staring at the open door, he waits for Ann to return. And then an expression flits across Dave’s face that you would never expect: doubt.
While Browning makes various changes to the text to contextualise it in a near-future NZ (to the extent of playing a radio news segment under one scene),Hampton’s central theme remains timeless: Governments rise and fall, wars come and go, and notions of gender roles evolve, but relationships, and the power dynamics and frictions they create, never change.
Treats is presented by Altitude Productions and plays at The Basement until 13 June. Details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe.