I just want to get through today.
The smaller studio theatre at the Trafalgar Studios is the perfect venue for Mydidae, set entirely in a couple’s bathroom. As we spy on David and Marian’s relationship over the course of one day, scrutinising their routines and habits, becoming privy to their most intimate secrets, our almost indecent proximity to the stage rightly makes us feel uncomfortable.
David and Marian appear to be a normal, middle-class couple: she wanders about the bathroom in an oversize t-shirt and knickers, brushing her teeth while listening to a Teach Yourself French tape, and he pees in front of her as he prepares for an important meeting at work later that day. Initially they seem relaxed and at ease in each other’s presence, and writer Jack Thorne cleverly makes use of the linguistic shorthand that a couple naturally develops over the course of a relationship. However, even early on it is evident that not all is as it seems in David and Marian’s outwardly happy life. The first hint comes from Marian when she says she just wants ‘to get through today’, and her barbed comments barely disguise her disappointment at David going into work; we are soon aware that this is the anniversary of some tragic event in their past. In the evening, the two share a bath, and it is in this extended scene that the play’s power and Thorne’s excellent script are most evident, as he explores the different ways in which this couple are dealing with their grief.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is brilliant as Marian – her terrified eyes and awkward movements making it wordlessly clear that the last place she wants to be is in a bath with her partner. Her reluctance to be naked in front of him as she tries to cover herself with bubbles speaks volumes, and her discomfort is palpable. Keir Charles is spot-on as David, a man who seeks to assuage his guilt at going to work on this particular day by decorating the bathroom with candles and opening a bottle of red – anything to avoid talking about what happened a year ago. Marian vents her anger and pain by asking David intimate, difficult questions, almost as though she’s intentionally provoking him. He in turn is derisive and critical of her middle-class upbringing and falls dangerously quiet when it transpires that she has had more sexual partners than him. The tension builds and builds, and Charles is particularly good here, making his final eruption in one shocking, brutal moment of violence both devastating and yet utterly believable. It is as traumatic for the audience as it feels for the actors on stage, and for the couple whose inability to communicate about their loss and grief has brought them to this nadir of despair.
Thorne’s pen savagely and metaphorically strips the characters bare, and yet there is also powerful use of physical nudity here, too, and under director Vicky Jones it is neither gratuitous nor unnecessary but intensifies David and Marian’s vulnerability and heightens the juxtaposition between the ease of being naked with one’s partner and the strong current of unease here.
I can’t help thinking about Mydidae in relation to I Know How I Feel About Eve (see my review of the latter here), since both plays focus on a couple dealing very differently with grief over the loss of a child. Both writers offer a loss of communication and sexual intimacy as the results of such a traumatic event, and both deal with the idea that any new child would be a ‘replacement’ or ‘sequel’ (or ‘version fucking two’ as Marian savagely spits at David). For me, Mydidae is the stronger piece: it’s savage, intense, shocking, Thorne writes an utterly believable couple and Waller-Bridge and Charles give two very strong performances. Most of all however, Thorne is brave enough to show us that not every story has a happy ending, and Marian and David’s decision to simply paint over the cracks in their relationship is devastatingly believable.