I always find the smaller, more intimate productions of QETC and its offshoot QE2 more successful than their large scale, more ambitious productions. That’s not to say that this double bill of two-handers is not ambitious and not large scale. But more of that later.
Smiley and Endless Second is a perfect, well-matched-fit of two one-act plays. Both deal with love, the former of the homosexual variety, the latter hetero. Perhaps variety is the wrong word – both plays demonstrate that there really isn’t any difference, that the path of true love never runs smooth and that the ensuing trials and tribulations must be addressed for a relationship to succeed. It is said that love conquers all – but it can leave an awful lot of destruction in its wake.
Smiley, by Spanish playwright Guillem Clua, tells the story of Bruno and Alex who meet as a result of a confused voice mail. They are very different, Alex runs a bar in Barcelona and is very much part of the gay scene, Bruno is a boring architect with a check shirt who isn’t. But as we know, opposites attract and a night of mad sex ensues, unequivocally depicted to avoid any misunderstanding, by the two actors rolling around naked in passionate embraces. Confused, they drift apart (after they have got dressed, obviously) but meet up later and declare their unbounded love for each other. Both very likeable, Ties Jansen as Bruno the architect and Rodney Giano as Alex gave well judged, convincing performances.
Now, as I said at the beginning, although a two-hander, this show was nothing if not ambitious and large scale. Director Mark Winstanley presented the play as a promenade production with half the audience on stage who manifested themselves as drinkers in the bar, dancers in a disco and anyone to whom the actors could address their asides. It worked well. The audience was also involved in short interludes where the fourth wall was removed and the two actors explained, for those who didn’t know – and I suspect there weren’t many – the glossary of queer references.
Rape, like murder, usually happens when the two people know each other. The masked attacker lurking in a dark alley is the exception rather than the rule. In Endless Second the couple are in a loving relationship and having sex. But on one occasion, after a night boozing, she claims she said no.
She, played by Lucia Alvargonzalez, meets the young man, played by Charlie Bird, at college and a relationship slowly develops. All is going well but at one point she changes and her attitude to him becomes cold and distant. She finally tells him that the night she got blotto and was throwing up, he raped her. He can’t, won’t believe it. He claims that he didn’t, couldn’t do it – that he is a nice person. She says that being nice is a basic requirement, not an entitlement. He is distraught; she won’t listen to his side of the story. Tough times ahead.
I really liked Theo Toksvig-Stewart’s play. The actors were not only delivering their dialogue but the narrative as well. Again, Ms Alvargonzalez’s and Mr Bird’s performances were well balanced and believable but I wasn’t so sure about using the onstage audience in this piece. Their use seemed a bit arbitrary (as they were already on stage) and the marshals herding them around were a little distracting.
But on the whole this double-bill was entertaining, though more importantly, it was a thought provoking evening based on some excellent writing and four fine performances. I’m certain most people will have experienced one or more of the aspects depicted. Endless Second explores a situation that I am sure is not uncommon, and the other play? Well, you don’t have to be queer to like Smiley, but it helps. Michael Hasted 25th November 2023