Sam Shepard fans are getting a double dose of his challenging American work this season, the first of which marks the finale for Found111, the hipster pop-up venue in central London on the site of the old Central St Martin's building. Fool For Love explores an area Shepard does best – the darker underbelly of America. Through this slight yet intense love story the audience become implicit spectators in a twisted affair where lies and twisted story-telling upsets the character's understanding and memory of disturbing personal events.
Cowboy Eddie has driven over 2000 miles to a seedy, run down motel room to see his old flame May, who is less than delighted to see and smell him. The tension bubbles from the characters being trapped within four walls on the edge of the Mojave Desert, and this sense of claustrophobia effectively extends into the auditorium. There's plenty of door slamming and flickering lights to help drive the tension, but we're never sure if we should be supportive or sceptical of their relationship.
The mixture of past and present tense hangs over the play from the outset and Shepard takes care to not reveal his full hand too early on, something that serves the dramaturgy but challenges the overall tone of the piece. We're expected to jump straight into Eddie and May's fiery relationship, and it's hard to initially care whether the pair stick together or drive off into the sunset.
Far from a perfect play Shepard falls back on elements of implausibility and convenience to help craft his narrative, drip feeding the central relationship to a point where the audience end up guessing the twist before it formally occurs. Elements are unnatural and crafted as mere devices – May spends a convenient amount of time hidden in a bathroom, and her gentleman caller Martin appears all too comfortable to sit and listen to a harrowing story from someone he has hardly met. In many ways it's slight and underdeveloped, yet as an audience you don't enjoy spending time in either of their company and aren't left begging for more.
Both Adam Rothenberg and Lydia Wilson are consummate actors who handle Shepard's loaded text suitably, but it's their lack of initial chemistry and behaviour between the lines that hold this production back from being appropriately explosive. The sense of danger never feels real, and as they play cat and mouse each attempting to win the upper hand their dangerous past never feels sufficiently close and oppressive.
Wilson is distinctly watchable, bouncing between vulnerability and fierce resistance that helps keep the tension balanced across the four characters. Rothenberg strives to be a pillar of masculinity yet feels almost too clean cut to thoroughly inhabit the base rodeo qualities that Eddie demands. It's the father character who presides over the stage like a ghost that feels the most obtuse, and as a dramatic device never fully pulls his weight in adding to the developing and seedy patchwork of emotions.
The challenging space makes for some problematic staging from director Simon Evans with awkward sight-lines for many across the thrust seating, but designer Ben Stones utilises all aspects of the space within his overall aesthetic. We loose some of the intensity as the walls open up onto the desert sand, and the characters never quite feel as mentally and physically trapped as the text suggests, but it's a handsome staging that offers a strong final hurrah for this boundary pushing London venue.