The set is a one-bed flat in East London – bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and lounge. Sat above, on all sides of the space, the audience peers down into the rooms below, becoming the ultimate voyeurs in this intimate portrait of a broken marriage in Leo Butler’s Faces In The Crowd.
The flat is the home of Dave (Con O’Neill), a 44-year-old from up north who came down to London 10 years ago to make something of himself. Joanne (Amanda Drew) is the wife he left behind, swimming in debt. Pushing 40 herself, Joanne visits Dave in London in order to get something from her husband (they are still married) that she feels she is entitled to – a baby.
The scene suffocates in tension from the outset. Drew’s Joanne is caustic in tone and simmering with resentment over the life she has led since Dave’s departure and the things he has achieved without her. Thinly veiled criticisms and barbed comments hide a nervousness about seeing him again and carrying out their ‘agreement’ – to get her pregnant. O’Neill plays an undemanding, childlike, emotionally inexpressive man who is pleased to see his wife and would rather avoid the confrontation that bubbles beneath her every word – something which angers Joanne even more.
William Fricker and Rae Smith’s set at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs cleverly allows the audience, like flies on the wall, to see into every room , spying on Dave and Joanne’s reactions and emotions both when they are together and when they are in separate rooms. We see Joanne’s preparations for sex and Dave’s private heartbreak after the pair finally confront 10 years of issues. Excruciatingly intimate, we also see Dave masturbating in the bathroom in order to ready himself for the task Joanne is demanding; and the couple in bed, attempting to have sex while leaving their emotions and history on the bedside table. Joanne, desperate for a child to relieve the loneliness of her life, goes about the task in hand like a household chore which must be done, but Dave, shamed and distraught by the situation, cannot bear his wife’s perfunctory attitude and fails, only to be scorned even more.
Referencing events and places in contemporary London, the play sits firmly in the present day. Contained entirely within the walls of the flat, there is only brief interaction with the outside world – a neighbour drilling above, a boy watching through the bedroom window from the strip club next door. In this, the play portrays Dave and Joanne’s situation as a drop in the ocean that is 21st century London, one of potentially many similar scenes which could be played out within the walls of flats and houses all over the capital. Butler gives us just one glimpse into the pain and emotional damage that lovers can cause to each other. Highly personal and intentionally difficult to watch, one glimpse is certainly enough.