Review of The Fantastical Adventures of [Not] Being With You

Entertainment Focus

Publication Date: 22 June, 2012

By Jamie Tabberer

★★★★ out of 5

It’s a highlight of this summer’s queer cultural calendar and immediately precedes London’s hosting of this year’s WorldPride 2012 festival; it’s written by Canadian-born Justen Bennett, who directed the Alberta premiere of British playwright Jonathan Harvey’s iconic Beautiful Thing only last year. Nevertheless, The Fantastical Adventures of [Not] Being With You, in residency at Camberwell’s petite Blue Elephant Theatre now, is not a gay play. We’ve all heard that a thousand times before, of course – but this time it’s true.

First and foremost, Bennett’s two-person drama is about relationships…or rather, a relationship. A relationship with a deliberately vague and underdeveloped backstory, that is. The lack of narrative to sink one’s teeth into, not to mention an almost complete lack of stagecraft, is sorely missed at times (A & B waiting in the rain, for what we do not know; A & B boarding a plane, to where we do not know), especially during the first few nonsensical and irritatingly loud fight scenes. Swiftly though, you’ll find yourself filling in the blanks with your own memories and experiences, and ultimately fascinated by both the exchanging of sweet nothings and the arguments about nothing taking place on stage.

The play’s secondary concern, therefore, is with gender, or the absence of it. Played with passion and boundless physicality by Ryan Wichert and Max Wilson, ‘A & B’ make no reference to being men (let alone gay men) through their dialogue or behaviour. They are in fact so under-characterised they could, in theory, be women, or perhaps a man and a woman. This possibility is not an accident. The message, that we’re all one and the same when it comes to love, comes across loud and clear. Just how easy and effective the aforementioned casting translation would be in reality, though, we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s a brave idea, and one that inevitably accommodates the audience’s projection of themselves into the story.

Inevitably, however, sacrifices are made to afford the ambiguity, even to the extent that A & B become arguably interchangeable: if the actors in question mixed each other’s lines up, for example, it probably wouldn’t make that much of a difference. However, Wichert and Wilson take what others might consider a disadvantage and turn it into a unique opportunity, creating two characters that are compelling in their imaginative and childlike similarity. They are each other’s mirror image, from tones of voice to facial expressions to body language. Eerie at times, yes, but for the most part charming: their chemistry, the sense that they are two parts of the same whole, is utterly believable. If ever two people were meant for each other it’s A & B; if ever two actors were made for each other it’s Wichert and Wilson. Their awareness of the other’s presence is constant and best-exemplified during their play fighting: boisterous sequences of pins and throws look so elaborate, one assumes they must’ve been painstakingly choreographed – not that they look it.

The pair of them are exhausting to watch but also to behold. They compete to be the most dramatic, their arguments becoming evermore riveting and ear-piercing and the humour of their silly games becoming evermore belly-laugh inducing and unsettling (plus invasive: warning – this play involves a small amount of audience participation). As such, a small handful of scenes of whispered tenderness scattered throughout come as welcome respite. It’s during these gimmick-free moments, when the roller coaster lets up, that the performance really soars.

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