BWW Review: RUST, Bush Theatre
Nadia and Daniel are beginning a life together. They have lives with their own families, too, but this relationship is different: meeting in the evening at their new studio flat, they follow the 11 commandments, "one better than God", which have been printed, are in bold and underlined in Times New Roman font. Clearly, this is special.
Clearly, they are having an affair. Kenny Emson's Rust, opening at the Bush Theatre before transferring to the Edinburgh Fringe and the HighTide Festival, tells their story. Emson renders the pleasures, sexual and emotional, of having an affair with tenderness and care, but, inevitably, the pressures of the world and their lives are felt, straining Nadia and Daniel's relationship.
With direction by Eleanor Rhode, Rust is finely acted. With the play filled with dick jokes, Jon Foster's Daniel is suitably flaccid and lusty, but it is Claire Lams who shines. Able to look empty, contemplative, drained and alive all at once, Lams is wholly captivating. With their strong performances, the 70 minutes fly by.
Yet the pact of emotional anonymity between Nadia and Daniel - no phones, no details about their families, and no spending on credit cards - proves the play's downfall: they deliberately tell each other (and thus the audience) very little about their lives. Momentary slips and hints reveal both are parents and in sexless marriages. The occasional solo scenes therefore work well in establishing their characters as individuals, and more of such would have humanised them both.
However, this maybe also be the point of Rust. Love, modern love, the play implies, has become depersonalised. Separated from the world in their flat, the pair is left to create their own microcosm.
Hence why Nadia gets annoyed when Daniel begins to move in odd pieces of furniture, which makes it closer to a home. Her love of the space is its simplicity, uncluttered and without physical signifiers. A home, we sense, is simply full of disappointment. The flat should be a clandestine, illicit Eden. Naturally, this oxymoron cannot exist and experience bursts in, shattering the post-lapsarian bliss.
The author's note to the playtext of Rust implies actual furniture is meant to be used, filling the flat as the piece continues. Playfully, however Emson acknowledges that anything can do instead as long as the concept used is not "boring". Designer Max Johns has, therefore, instead chosen here to pile high pillows in the space. Yes, they look infinitely fluffable and I wish I could jump on them...
Johns' design choice, however, has both positive and negative effects on the production. To start with the former, pillows are childish and carnal, accurately representing the excitement of both lovers and the naïve simplicity with which they approach the affair. They are also messy. The incremental addition of objects across Rust's 20 scenes, however, would have visually demonstrated the slow but steady influx of obstacles into Nadia and Daniel's secret life. Without that, the frequent scene changes can feel empty and without narrative drive.
"Nobody wants to watch people being happy." Daniel's comment refers to our obsession with shows that depict the ills of society. As we watch Nadia and Daniel enjoy each other, knowing both will return to their families, we can't help but agree with him. Rust honestly attempts to help audiences define what love means today, and whilst it may not be completely successful, it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'pillow talk'.
Photo credit Helen Murray.