Chemistry – Theatre Review

CHEMISTRY is a roller coaster of a play that will tug at your emotions. Tears may flow. It’s both beautiful and poignant. There is love and loathing in equal doses, underpinned by some mighty fine acting and clever, witty writing from the pen of Jacob Marx Rice.

The play, acted out within a square defined by a metal ring that intermittently lights up, pits Steph (Caoimhe Farren) against Jamie (James Mear). They meet at a psychiatrist’s office.

Steph, who works in a bar, is a chronic depressive although you wouldn’t necessarily know to begin with by her chirpy demeanour. She is bubbly, flirty and fun, but demons lurk within.

Jamie, a political analyst specialising in the Middle East, is more uptight, intense and a newbie to the world of psychiatry – unlike Steph who has flirted with suicide since the age of 10. Manic meets depressive. A recipe for disaster or hope?

Caoimhe Farren in ‘Chemistry’ – photo by Claire Bilyard

To begin with, Jamie is cautious, but love soon blossoms. It’s beautiful to watch – and brilliantly acted. All smiles, all tenderness, and a magic When Harry Met Sally moment (move over Meg Ryan, Caoimhe Farren has arrived).

Yet, as Jamie ‘recovers’ – weans himself off chemicals – and enjoys success at work, Steph slopes into an awful depression. It’s difficult to watch as Steph lies comatose waiting for the world to collapse on top of her. The end is a poignant one (pack a handkerchief or three). Confirmation that depression and mania are life sentences – permanent, not intermittent. There is no escape.

The play, acted out in a haunting mist, is imaginatively directed by Alex Howarth and masterfully produced by Holly Robin. It’s claustrophobic and intense – and the metal square gives the verbal sparring of Steph and Jamie a confined boxing match feel. The music, that pulls at the heartstrings, adds to the emotional overload, while the actors often use microphones to put their arguments across (a clever touch from Howarth).

Yet the real stars of Chemistry are Farren and Mear who have a genuine on-stage chemistry. Both are outstanding. The diminutive Farren is superb in transforming the ebullient Steph into a static Steph, trapped by her illness. Mear exudes love and tenderness. Kindness should be his middle name.

Chemistry is a mighty fine piece of writing (full of wit despite the rather grim subject matter) that Howarth, Farren and Mear have done justice to. A triumph.

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Title image by Claire Bilyard

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