I have to admit to have been looking forward to this production in the anticipation and hope, that it would be as good as Reza's 'Art'. First thing that has to be said is that it is not another 'Art' and it will not appeal to a large audience as 'Art' does. It is an acquired taste, because the play is generally based on two monologues and not dialogue. However, for me it lived up to all expectations.
While travelling on a train a woman (Eileen Atkins), by chance, ends up sitting opposite to a novelist (Michael Gambon) she admires. What will she do? Will she speak to him? Will she get out the novelists' latest book from her bag and start reading it and see if he reacts? The play concentrates on what each other are thinking while in the carriage together, with both wallowing in memory of their respective lives and both looking for ways to break the ice and speak to one another. There is some beautiful writing by Reza, which captures the mood and situation most of us have experienced when we have nervously sought ways of making conversation with a complete stranger.
The stage design by Mark Thompson, who also did the design for "Art", is again a very simple yet effective set. A few wooden chairs stand on a glass floor through which you can see a railway track, and there is a side of a carriage at the back of the stage. Of course it does not look anything like a carriage but, with the sound of a train in the background, it feels like one.
The play has received a mixed response from the popular press. JOHN PETER of THE SUNDAY TIMES says the play is "Cool" and "Elegant" and goes on to say "The writing is witty and suave, brittle and mascular." NICHOLAS DE JONGH of the EVENING STANDARD liked the play and was particularly impressed by Eileen Atkins performance saying, "She's sheer theatrical delight". CHARLES SPENCER of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says " No one could describe The Unexpected Man as great drama, but it does offer two of our greatest actors in a work of beguiling wit and charm". However, BILL HAGERTY of the NEWS OF THE WORLD was not impressed calling it "Less than captivating" and going on to say that the combined skills of the actors "cannot craft anything substantial out of Yasmina Reza's fragile piece".
As years pass one acquires a select band of actors who you admire, respect and warm to. Nothing beats the excitement of when you discover a favourite actor of yours is to appear on stage again. To have a play for two actors, of whom both are favourites, is a dream come true. Lasting only 80 minutes without an interval, time flew by as I was mesmerised and transfixed by the standard of acting that is of the highest order, it is simply bliss.