A THIRD, Finborough Theatre - Review

In today's Tinder world, the notion of going 'on dates' seems slightly archaic. The lines are blurred as to what constitutes a date ("Does meeting up for a coffee or drink count?") and people are more likely to meet at a mutual friend's function or group event. With people often seeing several people at once, labels such as 'girlfriend/boyfriend' are seldom given until a relationship has been running its course for some time and the leap towards mutual exclusivity rears its head. If conventional dating is such a minefield, what hope is there for clarity with three-way relationships?

Inspired by an advice column she read where a woman felt emotionally betrayed by her husband during a threesome, seasoned playwright and TV writer Laura Jacqmin wrote A Third as a way to explore the emotional and practical consequences to having an open relationship.

Allison and Paul (Asha Reid and Jeremy Legat) are a young American couple who like having sex. Of the two, Paul has probably 'experimented' more in his younger years and is the less apprehensive in ‘pushing boundaries’. The play opens with the couple toying with the idea of having 'a third' to join them on some occasions to add extra frisson to the proceedings. Agreeing on a set of rules, they contact Jay (Will Alexander) on Craiglist and Allison 'assesses' him in a preliminary meeting. Paul and Allison's tryst with Jay proves to be a catalyst for more experimenting and the couple a short time later repeats the menage a trois scenario with some distinct differences – the woman (Mariella – Lucy Roslyn) joining them is gay. However, the trysts have an unexpected long-term effect – on Paul and Allison as well as 'the thirds'. Some doors once opened can never be closed...

Dressing the 'stage' as a living room, the performance space for this production is the closest I've ever seen to seeing the theatre in its 'natural state', whose aesthetic decision reminded me of the King Charles III run at the Almeida.

In keeping with the intimate nature of the play, the Finborough Theatre has the majority of the seats for the play around the edge of room, while some of the audience can sit on the bench 'with the actors' (though they do have to move from time to time when necessary). If you happen to be sitting near the bench where the audience sitting there can obscure the line of sight, not to worry. Due to the nature of the play, the actors constantly break the fourth wall, so chances are they'll sit amongst the audience right next to you!

One of the things I found interesting about the play was the group dynamics. On more than one occasion we're told that by the couple (who are candid to the point of being rude) that 'the third' is not an 'equal' – that they're there solely for the couple's benefit. Any enjoyment 'the third' gets is secondary. Both Paul and Allison ask Jay about his job and other aspects of his life, but the fact they bring the same trivial questions repeatedly suggests they’re inattentive and don't really care about Jay or about anything that makes him unique.

Jacqmin suggests this 'pecking order' is a problem waiting to happen. If one's always putting others' needs first, there will be guaranteed dissatisfaction in the long-term. The question remains what would be the 'breaking point' for 'the thirds'? And what would happen if they developed feelings for one of the couple (or indeed the other way around?)

One of the things that I found interesting was the dreams that Allison had about Jay following the first three-way tryst. Not anything 'X-rated', but of simple things like going shopping and special time together. Jay feels the same way and wants 'more', what carnal pleasure doesn't guarantee – a prominent place in someone's heart and life: true intimacy and acceptance.

In terms of the actors, they all delivered nuanced performances. Reid captures Allison’s ambivalence to a T, concerned from the outset of the emotional fallout in pursuing their course of action, yet finds herself bending her self-imposed rules. Legat exhibits Paul’s initial excitement at reliving his former care-free days and the realisation that what he wants now isn’t what he thought he wanted. Alexander’s Jay is confident without being arrogant and nursing a desire to be wanted for himself alone. Roslyn’s Mariella is arguably the most complex of the four. Apprehensive at first, once she knows what she wants, she doesn’t doubt herself about whether it’s ‘right’ or not.

Jacqmin's play poses a lot of questions, but its underlying message is no matter how progressive or liberal we think we are about sex, emotions are bound to surface, regardless what we tell ourselves. Deep down, we know the idea of being playing the field is better than the reality, which opens the door to uncertainty and insecurity. But as irrational human beings, it doesn’t stop us from thinking about this. Deep down we’re all searching, like Jay. How radical is that?

© Michael Davis

A Third runs at the Finborough Theatre for twelve performances, on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, 28, 29, 30 June, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 July 2015. Sunday and Monday evenings at 7.30pm. Tuesday matinees at 2.00pm. Monday matinee on 20 July at 2.00pm.

See our interview with the playwright Laura Jacqmin: http://femalearts.com/node/1795


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