WITHOUT That Certain Thing is a refreshing piece of writing from Rory Platt, brought to the stage with a bucket-load of panache by Chloe Christian.
Although infused with a healthy dose of humour throughout, the play’s heart is more serious, probing away at issues that affect us all at stages in our lives – personal obsession, unfulfilled desires, our propensity to deceive and lie, and unrequited love.
At the centre of it all is Madeleine (Caitlin McEwan) who on the surface at least lives a pretty mundane life. She is single, young, living on her own in London, a little boring and a soul somewhat confused. A little fish in a big sea. So lost in fact, it seems, that she ends up lesbian speed-dating even though she is not attracted to women.
Yet there is more behind her reason for a dalliance with speed-dating. The session triggers a ‘date’ with Sullivan (an excellent Phoebe Naughton) who is attracted to the little lost Scottish lamb. In the bar upstairs afterwards, Madeleine reveals that she is being stalked by a mysterious gentleman – and that pitching up at a lesbian get together is a move designed to confuse him and maybe stop him in his stalking tracks.
Sullivan eagerly promises to help out, saying she will use her skills as a private investigator to find out why this rather unstable individual Swann (a menacing and at times downright scary Tom Macqueen) is following Madeleine to work, back home and everywhere else she cares to go. He also leaves notes and is prone to spouting poetry in between a spot of life drawing . ‘He’s there, like the weather,’ says Madeleine. Every moment of her waking day and night.
What then follows is a triangular game of cat and mouse. Who is actually stalking whom? Who is more in love with Madeleine? Sullivan or Swann? Rivals in love? It is all rather head-swirling and occasionally difficult to fathom, but what becomes clear is that Madeleine is not quite the cute lamb she purports to be. More hogget.
The play is infused with good writing and some stand-out moments – at one stage Swann bizarrely leaving a gramophone playing outside Madeleine’s home. Effectively surreal.
With Sullivan providing sporadic voice-overs throughout – cleverly laced with double shots of wit and humour – this is an eminently watchable play that races along at a fair lick. Warmly received by a packed audience (February 28) and rightly so. Fresh as a newly born lamb.
Worth a gander as indeed is much on offer from the excellent Vault Festival that runs until March 17. For the record, the play’s venue – the Network Theatre, situated under London’s Waterloo Station – is alone worth the ticket price. Like entering a prison.
Title photo by Danté K Photography