REVIEW: Slipping, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Charlotte Harwood in Slipping by Claudine Toutoungi at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Charlotte Harwood in Slipping by Claudine Toutoungi at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Those of us who have ever visited an optician will recognise the pool of yellow light that focuses attention on the stage before the beginning of this new play.

It is the after-image left following an eye examination and an unnerving reminder of medical interventions for many of us.

Enter Charlotte Harwood as Elena (surely the Queen of the McCarthy after this summer’s brilliant performances) wearing an eye-patch. Now we know where we are going. She has an eye condition that will involve the use of a prosthetic and Christopher Harper, the other half of this two-hander, is Sean, the technician who will make and fit it.

Replacing an eye may appear a rather gruesome theme to some, but if author Claudine Toutoungi had chosen a more obvious vehicle (perhaps breast implants) to question our current obsession with ‘fitting in’ then some audiences would have groaned at another exploration of women’s issues.

Eyes are common to us all and disfigurement could affect anyone.

Over 10 of the 11 scenes we follow Elena’s downward slither, her life unstitching as she struggles to come to terms with the impending operation. Complications multiply as she deals with explicit and imagined prejudice, questions whether she will still be a ‘real’ person with an artificial eye and then launches into an affaire with the technician assigned to her case.

Charlotte Harwood gives an edgy performance as the complicated Elena: she lies, she cheats, but we understand her feelings and sympathise with her neurasthenia.

Christopher Harper’s Sean is equally complex. He seems to lack confidence, then turns in a bravura performance at a conference where he has to represent his clinic to potential donors.

Only in the last scenes are his mood swings explained and we discover his dark secret.

Henry Bell (director) has given us a disturbing, but engaging, evening of drama, ably supported by a minimalist set (Lucy Weller) and austere lighting (Tigger Johnson).

Slipping runs until Saturday October 18.

Reveiw by Mike Tilling