This latest play by Jack Thorne (Skins, Cast-offs, This is England '86 and This Is England '88), specially commissioned by new writing company DryWrite, is about a couple in their late twenties and takes place entirely in their bathroom.
The set is really quite engrossing, with the washbasin, bath and toilet all seemingly fully functional. A bath is run on stage and David (Keir Charles) shaves into an imaginary mirror with real running water. But beneath the gleaming porcelain and easy companionship – the couple chat, use the toilet, floss and kiss – a tension builds.
When David leaves for work and Marian (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) stays behind, we start to piece together the back story of loss and grief that underpins these scenes.
The play is set over the course of just one day, but Thorne's feel for the structure of a scene, and for the emotional arc of a conversation, means that what happened on this one day carries the weight of a shared history that extends far beyond it, into each of the characters' individual pasts, too.
Thorne not only fills the audience in on recent events but also brings to light the kind of conversational patterns and well-worn lines of argument that characterise long-term relationships.
The play demands a lot from the actors. Not only because they are semi or fully naked for most of it, but also because it is quite a hard-nosed piece, and the complex psychologies presented on-stage are not mediated through sympathetic characters.
Mydidae is more about the relationship between two people than it is about the individuals involved. Waller-Bridge and Charles do their best to make the often arch, self-consciously witty dialogue seem naturalistic, but there is something theatrical about lines like “is there such a thing as a vintage Mazda?” that doesn't sit well with the intimacy of the set-up.
After the blow of a harrowing climax, I hoped that the two would stop performing for each other, but this wasn't the case. Vicky Jones's direction is perhaps at fault here, with performances often seeming too large for the small space of the Soho Theatre Upstairs, something which was especially true of the too-loud final, reconciliation scene. If the words had been allowed to speak for themselves (rather than shrieked and spluttered through) their shades of hope and hollowness would have been just as clear, and would have given the actors some space for gentleness after a tense hour or so.
Mydidae deals with a number of difficult subjects, its form resting on a pivotal moment when David loses control, causing the domestic systems in place to break down and twisting an ordinary scene out of shape. This is typical Thorne territory and if it doesn't quite carry it off with the writer's usual grace, Mydidae is nevertheless a riveting watch.
As David and Marian strip and bathe, they strip each other further, verbally, and the emotional nakedness of the piece is both its strength and its weakness: it offers a raw depiction of human experience, but doesn't allow much for either actors or audience to imagine about the characters themselves.