It’s an exhausting 80 minutes watching two unnamed characters verbally slug it out when a row about politics escalates into full scale war.
Mike Bartlett’s emotionally charged new drama, An Intervention, opened at Watford Palace Theatre this week and it’s likely to start a few arguments of its own.
Paines Plough, working in conjunction with WPT, has spared no expense on an elaborate set. Actually, there’s a curtain, a bare stage and a couple of props.
The cast list is, well, not expansive. There’s the very lovely and talented Rachael Stirling as a bi-polar, manic depressive, possibly alcoholic, political firebrand and sometime teacher.
She wears her heart and beliefs on her sleeve, is passionate, committed, confrontational, abrasive and provocative.
And there is John Hollingworth who is probably no less passionate but he hides it well. In fact it’s difficult for him to get animated about anything, even when he’s knocked over by Stirling.
We never learn much about the two best friends (“Only small children have best friends,” says Hollingworth). We don’t even get to know their names. But the fourth wall drops for the pair to include the audience in their volatile skirmishes.
The staccato dialogue comes in half sentences with each hurling abuse and accusations at each other in a protracted row which begins with a conflict of ideology.
Stirling’s character attends a rally protesting at the intervention of allied forces in a Middle Eastern country.
Hollingworth’s refused to go, believing that the action is vital to bring about peace.
She turns up at his flat, drunk, incendiary, and spoiling for a fight.
The play progresses in chapters rather than acts as the pair clash, avoid each other, try to get on with their lives, and eventually come to depend on each other.
It’s superbly crafted by Bartlett and powerfully acted by the most unlikely of double acts.
Most of the work is done by the protagonist, Stirling, whose character is three sheets to the wind throughout and totally driven in her beliefs.
Hollingworth’s man tries to be the voice of reason but he comes across as a bit of a self-righteous, sanctimonious prig.
He throws a word out at his inebriated friend to test her sobriety. It’s one of those words that a friend has probably bet Bartlett that he can’t find a place for in any of his plays.
Honorificabilitudinitatibus is arguably the longest word in the English language and is used by Shakespeare in Love Labours Lost.
Bartlett, the sly dog, has slipped it in and Stirling valiantly battles with it. No wonder she eventually tips over the edge. I doubt if any normal person could say it sane or sober.
There’s as much black comedy in An Intervention as there is rage.
An all out offensive between the two opposing sides produces a verbally violent battle on the home front that is as furious as anything fought in Afghanistan.
An Intervention runs until May 3.