My programme for this brand new play by Michael Kingsbury, former artistic director of the White Bear in South East London, does not give much specific information about its theme, but gives plenty of clues. It, quirkily, contains a whole page borrowed from Wikipedia about swinging, facing a page of what appear to be genuine contact advertisements. The pictures of the cast reveal one young man and woman, and one older man and woman. I think we know where this is going.
Nor does Kingsbury, who also directs, tell us much of the nature of his interest in swinging. I am fascinated to know what drew him to the subject matter. Otherwise, in this utterly convincing and devastatingly bleak exploration of the mysterious world once known as “wife-swapping”, we might be compelled to draw some inappropriate conclusions. Although that’s really none of my business.
The play takes place entirely within the front room of a middle-class couple from posh North London – “Industrial Psychiatrist” Matthew (Robin Sneller) and his wife of fifteen years, Naomi (Julia Swift) – whose marriage has hit what appears to be a dry patch (pun intended). In order to spice up their lives, they have delved into the world of swinging, and, as the play opens, are anxiously awaiting the arrival of a young couple from south of the river, who turn out to be the resolutely proletarian Ryan (Simon Quarterman) and Kelly (MyAnna Buring). Awkward pleasantries are exchanged and monkfish and white wine are served as the nervous anticipation of what they are all there to consensually do takes hold. However, it soon becomes clear that Ryan and Kelly’s motives for wanting to swing with an older, wealthier couple are not entirely as Matthew and Naomi might hope.
There is little else I can share with you that will not spoil your enjoyment of this delightfully dense, well-paced and scarily convincing new work. Perfectly suited to the tiny, intimate space, and superbly designed and directed, its close-up emotion is by turns harrowing and amusing. There is, perhaps, something a bit “Play for Today” about a story of sexual experimentation (or, perhaps more accurately, relationship experimentation) that goes wrong, and the somewhat neat class divide that runs like a tramline through proceedings, but this old-school study of the frailty of the human condition is not much less pleasing for it.
The real pleasure of watching an intimate piece such as this is seeing it brought to life by a great cast. I was concerned at the beginning that Swift was too subtle (and quiet) and Sneller too broad (and loud) as the Islington couple who have everything but the kids, but they almost visibly grew into their neuroses as the show went on. Buring, as the brighter-than-you’d-imagine Kelly, was an absolute natural, by turns working-class shop girl and slinky, sophisticated seductress, and Quarterman, as the assertive-yet-defensive entrepreneur who’s in trouble, while slightly mannered, remained charming and convincing throughout.
With this great cast and tight script, Kingsbury explores some big themes – despair, loneliness, jealousy – without letting his own moral take on it get in the way. This is perhaps the perfect reason for him not to have written a foreword in the programme. Seduced will leave you tattered and torn and, perhaps regrettably, slightly put off by putting out with a strange couple.