Mouth to Mouth

Tuesday, 22 May, 2001

Kevin Elyot’s new play has transferred to the Albery after a sell out run at the Royal Court earlier this year and what a great play it is. It has a beautifully crafted script and boasts the esteemed actress Lindsay Duncan.

Kevin Elyot’s plays include “My Night With Reg” which was a massive success at the Royal Court, Criterion and Playhouse theatres in the 90s and his more recent play “The Day I Stood Still” was performed at the National Theatre in 1998. Both these plays I enjoyed and Elyot’s latest offering is just as good, if not better!

The play is about the secrets and lies which people, even close friends and family members, keep from each other, and the desperate loneliness that can overwhelm one even when surrounded by friends.

Frank is dying of an unnamed illness and feels overburdened with guilt from an event that happened twelve months ago and wishes to clear his conscience.

Frank tries to explain to his doctor why he wishes to stop taking his medicine and why, as a writer, his plays are always about himself. All the while his doctor sniffs cocaine and makes endless sexual innuendoes. We are then taken back 12 months to witness the event that Frank is struggling so much to reveal.

We are introduced to Frank’s friend Laura and her family. An evening is spoilt when Laura’s husband invites his brother and his wife to visit for the evening and her son Phillip shows his holiday photographs. It is at this point that Elyot begins to weave his magic revealing entwined relationships and their hidden depths. We are finally returned to the present and witness the devastating results ‘sudden death’ can have upon the living.

This is a tragic and moving story that is captivating throughout. Elyot cleverly keeps us guessing as to what the play is about and what surprises are to be revealed. The story unfolds with perfect timing, along with some excellent writing keeping you thoroughly gripped.

The cast is superb, but Lindsay Duncan stands out above the rest as ’Laura’, a woman stuck in a loveless marriage, but who cherishes her teenage son, ‘Phillip’, played convincingly by Andrew McKay. Michael Maloney is also credible as the desperately ill ‘Frank’.

This is what the popular press had to say about the show when it was at the Royal Court a couple of months ago....JOHN PETER for THE SUNDAY TIMES says, "Kevin Elyot's masterly play coalesces slowly, almost reluctantly, like a recollected nightmare." He goes on to say, "Duncan's wonderful performance deepens into a dark glow: a portrayal of loss and pain whose power and subtley will haunt you long after you leave." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD describes the play as a "poised, satirically sharp production". He goes on to say, "Maloney's performance is terrific. "KATE STRATTON for TIME OUT says the play "brims with merciless comedy as it explores personal relationships at their most private and unspoken". She goes on to describe it as a "sensitive, generous production". THE INDEPENDENT says, "Beautifully modulated production." And goes on to say, "Mouth to Mouth offers a further demonstration of the sharp, observant humour and sensitivity with which Elyot plays tragicomic variations on these elements." THE GURADIAN says, "Beautifully directed by Ian Rickson." THE DAILY MAIL says, "Deft, funny and sad, this touching new play ...contains a wealth of tragedy within a sunlit meeting in a South London kitchen." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "This astonishingly fine play, which crams so much into 90 minutes without any sense of strain, has received the staging that it so richly deserves." PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "The play is constructed with meticulous precision."

‘Mouth to Mouth’ is a compelling and witty drama that is well worth seeing.

(Darren Dalglish)

(Production photos by Ivan Kyncl)

Next review by Tom Keatinge
May 2001

Following on from his success at the Royal Court with My Night with Reg, Kevin Elyot’s latest creation, Mouth to Mouth, has also made the transfer from Sloane Square to the West End (Albery Theatre). Set predominantly in the South London home of middle-aged Laura (Lindsay Duncan) and Dennis (Peter Wright) – “I am going to leave him/her very soon you know” – this black comedy, whilst containing some comic moments, particularly around the vacuous Cornelia (Lucy Whybrow), Dennis’s sister-in-law, is ultimately filled with despair.

The play opens, as it closes, in the present, with Frank (Michael Maloney) an under-achieving playwright, reflecting with Laura on the trauma that has befallen them all during the preceding twelve months, and unable to bring himself to say what he really wants, to reveal to Laura the part that he has truly played. From this point, we step back in time, first to the day before, to a lunch between Frank and his self-centred, squalid doctor Gompertz (Ian Gelder), and then to a year earlier, to an evening chez Laura and Dennis in Balham. During the evening, the delicate equilibrium that exists in, and maintains, so many families, unravels as details of their son Phillip’s (Andrew Mackay) trip to Spain are revealed, and the discovery of the existence of a tattoo on his thigh lead to despair in different ways for both mother and Frank. This downward spiral to an inevitably tragic ending is punctuated by the arrival of Dennis’s younger (and considerably more attractive) brother Roger (Ray Stevenson) and his air-headed wife Cornelia – yet this too, eventually has painful consequences as past history of infidelities resurface.

This is definitely a powerful piece, with strong performances from Lindsay Duncan as the over protective, despairing and ultimately shattered mother, and sensitive Frank, the failed writer whose misplaced love of a younger man leads to such a tragic outcome, as no one cares to listen to his pleas for help and attention. The cameo role of Ian Gelder as Frank’s disinterested and despicable doctor is also highly entertaining. Yet despite these performances, the play somehow lacked the cohesion and tight ensemble work that this kind of “observation” production requires, leaving a sense of lethargy, the sense that the audience was never properly engaged. The threads of the plot are clear to follow – Frank’s developing Aids, the consequences of the self-centred nature of all concerned – yet there remain numerous unanswered questions and for me an unsatisfied sense of a play that seemed to have strayed from its original destination – whatever that might have been.

Notwithstanding all this, Mouth to Mouth is a powerful and at times highly entertaining piece that demonstrates how valuable it is for new writing to be properly showcased by the West End.

Tom Keatinge

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