REVIEW: SPIDERFLY (Theatre 503) ★★★★

Theatre 503 presents John Webber’s first full play, a taut, psychological drama, that builds to an emotional and impressive climax.

Esther (Lia Burge) is a couple’s counsellor but is herself in emotional turmoil, dealing with bereavement, divorce and a troubled childhood. She seeks solace in two very different male characters, Keith and Chris, both played by Matt Whitchurch. Keith is a surly East End cab driver, quick to anger and it soon emerges, currently locked up. Chris by contrast is a middle-class, globetrotting academic who Esther has met through an online dating app. We see the fantastically awkward first ‘dates’ for both couples and then skip between scenes that show how these relationships develop with occasional narration from Esther helping to fill in some of the gaps.

Webber’s dialogue is crisp and deliberately pointed. Even when characters disappear into their own stream of consciousness, there is something calculated and skilful in how this builds the story. Kirsty Patrick-Ward directs the material with care and sensitively leaves the emotions to brew with long pauses to add to the tension. The eighty-minutes flew by as the audience was so engaged with the intrigue taking place. A well-designed set by Lizzy Leach, is suitably gloomy and an outstanding soundtrack by Dominic Brennan helps build this mood as well.

Both actors deliver impressive performances that cover a significant range of emotions but are at their best when the audience can see them working hard to suppress the fury building underneath. Burge gives Esther an apparent vulnerability before gradually stripping this back to reveal a steely character, forged through her experience of trauma. Whitchurch does well to flip between the very different characters with only a jacket to signify the change. He is particularly good as Keith as the character becomes more and more fragile, so desperate is he to maintain this relationship with Esther.

This well-written piece is cleverly staged and draws out terrific performances from the two actors. This bodes well for the writer and the cast; both certainly deserve to be seen on larger stages.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington
Photo: Josh McClure

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