Writer and actor. Man and woman. Ying and yang. Jack and Emily are all these things and more. The phrase “Can’t live with them, can’t live without them” could be said to encapsulate their relationship. But what keeps them together? Written and directed by Matthew Lyon, Sweet Fanny Adams is a funny, acerbic take on the creative relationship between artists.
Jack (Matthew Lyon) is an ‘old-fashioned’ writer in that he literally spends his time writing on a pad – when he isn’t throwing previous efforts away or drinking bottles of whisky. Emily (Meg Bennett) spends much of her time on the sofa, making barbed comments about Jack’s lack of progress. She herself is partial to imbibing, but her ‘poison of choice’ is wine.
While the banter between them is caustic, most of it ‘rolls off each other’ like oil on water. However, because they know each other intimately, every now and again the ‘arrows’ they fire occasionally hit their mark, usually when they are being ‘candid’ instead of disparaging. If the play was solely about insults and ‘point scoring’, it would get stale very quickly. Instead, what we see is ‘we always hurt the ones we love the most’ in action.
Much like his onstage alter ego, Lyon’s a gifted wordsmith who relishes the written word – throwing in literary allusions, inventive insults, wordplay and even poignant silences into the mix. With a lesser talent, Emily could have been a harridan much like the thankless roles Joan Sims was often saddled with in the Carry On movies. While Bennett as Emily gives as good as she gets, she shows moments of vulnerability and candour that disarm Jack.
Much like the dynamic between George and Martha in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, the absence of children in their lives is a source of friction, though one wonders how any child brought up that environment would turn out. So instead, Emily waits for the ‘birth’ of Jack’s new play, his creative ‘love letter’ to her, his muse.
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a show that is so playful with its semantics, when the utterance of phrases such as “I love you” are really a passive-aggressive way of saying “I f****** hate you”…
© Michael Davis 2018
Sweet Fanny Adams ran at Bread & Roses Theatre from 12th-16 June.