What kind of a playwright rails against language? We writerish types can be splashier with words than a teenage boy and a bottle of Lynx™. In both cases, bystanders gasp for clean air and beg for a little less.
An award-winning 2014 Broadway play with Toni Collete, Will Eno’s The Realistic Joneses has reached Bath’s peerless Ustinov Studio in an excellent production. Simon Evans directs a superb cast of four: Sharon Small, Clare Foster, Jack Laskey and Corey Johnson. Each one is a joy to watch. These characters leap off the stage and piggyback-ride you all the way home (I woke up with them all this morning: this is a play that stays with you).
Eno’s play starts by upending conversational conventions through the device of a rare neurological disease affecting both Bob (Corey Johnson) and John (Jack Laskey). As each couple deals with their weak spots through the disease’s progression, Eno encourages us to think more carefully about how we connect physically and spiritually with one another and with the world around us: nature, the universe and our god/s.
Eno has a very dark sense of humour, but also a great compassion for his characters in really horrible situations. While there’s a very unrealistic element to these Joneses (these neighbouring couples are both called Jones, if you’re wondering), they are at the same time so incredibly believable. While the writing’s a big part of that, be in no doubt that the performances are no less than superb.
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Sharon Small’s frustrated, hard-working Jennifer is the woman you can see in any hospital waiting room, knuckles clenching, smile fixed through worried eyes. Jack Laskey’s space-cadet John is a bucket of eccentricity, love and fear that might explode at any moment. Corey Johnson’s Bob, a grouch with an inner teddy-bear we delight in watching transform; and Clare Foster’s so-fragile Pony is the kind of woman you want to stand up and cheer when she gets over herself, and braves the real world.
It’s an evocative play about our everyday big questions. It leaves you with plenty, have no doubt. When you go (you need to), you’ll see how Eno suspends what might be conventional reactions to difficult events (I’m avoiding spoilers here: trust me).
Why? Perhaps he’s suggesting that happiness lies in finding value, significance and peace all around us, rather than in just the big things or in deep and meaningful conversation. That, instead, it can be found in the moment: in a kind word, an owl’s hoot, the stars above. A lamp that finally enlightens us, a radio that finally sings.
The Realistic Joneses continues at the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath until March 7. For more info, visit www.theatreroyal.org.uk/event/the-realistic-joneses