Written by Penelope Skinner and directed by Aoife Smyth, Eigengrau is all about contrasts. Between men and women, and between those who have ‘got their lives together’ – and those who don’t. Both Cassie and Mark are the ‘alpha’ characters, but in terms of personalities and convictions, they couldn’t be more different. An avowed feminist activist, Cassie has a low threshold for ‘BS’ and is used to the underhanded ‘tricks of the Patriarchy’. Mark varies his ‘public persona’ – depending on who he’s with. Blunt to the point of being rude with his flatmate Tim, Mark’s a ‘mirror’ to any woman he’s interested in. If he ‘believes’ in anything, it’s the values of a stereotypical Tory.
Joseph Holroyd and Robyn Wilson / © Victorine Pontillon
Old schoolfriend, flatmate and ‘underachiever’, Tim has no recourse but to listen to Mark’s opinions and observe his love life. Tim’s ‘affectation’ is that he keeps an urn of his grandmother’s ashes with him – in an urn that’s in the shape of a cat. However, when compared with Rose, Tim seems very level-headed. One of life’s dreamers and ‘believers’, Rose is unperturbed by the worries of finding rent and meeting one’s financial obligations. As long as ‘the Universe’ keeps sending her signs about her love life and happiness, she’s content. But every tale needs a beginning, and in this one it starts with Rose and Mark hooking up and what they both decide to do as a consequence…
So what on Earth is ‘Eigengrau’ and what does it have to do with the play? ‘Eigengrau’ is what the naked eye sees in the absence of external light. While not ‘total darkness’, the eye in lieu of ambient illumination ‘sees’ in a fashion, but not with absolute clarity. It is this analogy that sums up the characters – seeing things dimly, but unable – or unwilling – to see more because to see with absolute clarity would rob any chance of happiness.
As Mark, Joseph McCarthy is suitably ‘malleable’, exhibiting a ‘flexible’ personality and changeable set of priorities. In contrast, Katharine Hardman gives a committed performance as the principled Cassie, wanting to believe Mark’s sincerity, but her ‘head’ is saying otherwise. Should she listen to her heart..?
Giving a sympathetic portrayal of someone who practically ‘runs away’ from reality and responsibility isn’t easy, but Robyn Wilson’s Rose is funny AND believable. And while playing someone who is ‘nice’ and dependable doesn’t sound interesting enough to pique one’s interest, Joseph Holroyd’s Tim has a ‘quirky’, unpredictble quality that is distinctive.
If Eigengrau has anything to say, it’s that relationships are anything but logical pursuits, and that even with the most open of people, there is a tendency to not lay all of one’s cards on the table – at least initially. When there is a tension between what the heart and head wants, there is a certain amount of self-deception…
© Michael Davis 2018
Eigengrau runs at Greenwich Theatre until 11th August.