BWW Review: SPIDERFLY, Theatre503
As we enter the intimate studio space of Theatre503, we're greeted by our own reflections in a mirror at the back of the stage. This generates some discomfort whilst making it clear that we're about to witness a character study.
John Webber's debut play was long-listed for the esteemed Bruntwood Prize, as well as being selected for Park Theatre's Script Accelerator Scheme. He also has the support of Old Vic New Voices - impressive credentials that are more than justified based on this first work.
Esther, portrayed by Lia Burge, is a couple's counsellor. The irony is that she's the one in need of help and support. Still reeling from the unresolved death of her sister, she is motivated by her quest for answers, while being deeply alone and vulnerable.
Peter Small's gloomy lighting design adds to the ominous atmosphere, and framing the set in bright neon is a nice touch - giving a sense of both the institutional and a growing claustrophobia. Lizzy Leech's staging consists of a table and two chairs along with two windows behind. Its effective minimalism allows the actors and writer to do all the talking, though still contributes a foreboding atmosphere.
This is very much a play about personal trauma, but Webber never allows it to be overly bleak and incorporates much in the way of character-driven humour. Kirsty Patrick Ward's slick direction ensures we're kept on our toes throughout, second-guessing each character's motivations and intentions, and of course wondering who is the spider and who is the fly.
Burge captures the complexities of Esther with a carefully considered and detailed performance. Her body language and facial expressions convey all we need to know about how the character is feeling. Several sequences whereby she simply smiles to herself in order to release endorphins and feel better are both beautiful and haunting to behold. She also demonstrates good comic timing, with her character's quirks generating audible laughter.
The actress is well supported by Matt Whitchurch, who is tasked with playing two very different roles. As Keith, he evokes a disturbing intensity which at times leaves the audience feeling unsettled. Surely a sign of a strong actor equipped with strong writing. In his portrayal of Chris, the sweet but awkward type, he also has an opportunity to deliver a great deal of comedy.
The two carry the show incredibly well, sustaining our attention throughout the 80-minute, no-interval performance. Although it ventures into dark territory, their talents alone are a joy to watch.
This examination of human nature well and truly cements the fact that Webber is a writer to watch out for, and one who promises an exciting future.
Photo credit: Josh McClure