Zucchini

Zucchini

53two, Manchester.

28 February 2019.

Jamie and Katie have been together for three years. They’ve done all the usual couple milestones, including meeting each other’s parents, so what’s next? Jamie has booked a hotel room for them, so that they can spend an evening together talking, something he feels they don’t do enough of. They’re about to do a lot of it.

Katie seems content with life, although slightly distracted by her job. Jamie is more restless and niggles away at their relationship. They confound the usual lazy gender stereotypes. She’s super confident and career-focused. He is more needy and feels he isn’t listened too. Katie pops open a bottle of prosecco and drops the cork on the floor. Jamie picks it up.

Part way through their evening, there’s a revelation that would bring most relationships to a juddering halt. Yet after having spent the first half of the play reflecting back on their time together so far, the second part sees Jamie and Katie tentatively construct a possible future together that defies expectations.

Elis Shotton’s new play’s strength lies in the believability of the two characters. They’re flawed, fallible and yet very likeable. As they go back and forth, musing over shared memories, carping about ‘in-laws’ and revisiting never-ending disagreements, it all feels very real. In one especially striking section of dialogue, they argue vociferously about planning a holiday, only for it to become increasingly clear that their intense disagreement is about something much more profound. Something unspoken, that can’t yet be named.

Zucchini explores how the labels that are placed on identities and relationships can be inadequate and restrictive. As Jamie and Katie contemplate how they might continue as a couple, despite their changed circumstances, they look for a more flexible model – one that is built on feelings other than sexual attraction. Katie’s discovery of queerplatonic relationships (inevitably something she’s read about online), offers a framework within which they can, at last, openly discuss how they feel about relationships, love, sex and their shared future.

Shotton’s narrative refashions the trappings of romantic love into something unexpected. The revelation that could tear them apart is shared with an intimate embrace. As the ‘rules’ that defined their previous relationship unravel they become more physically close, holding on to each other ever more tightly. And at their most vulnerable, with everything up in the air, they exchange a kiss.

Elaine McNicol (Katie) and Alastair Michael (Jamie) are compelling to watch. Their intelligent and complex performances can more than withstand the scrutiny of an audience up close and surrounding them on all four sides. There’s an edge to their interaction, as if anything might happen.

Josh Coates’ direction keeps everything tight, nicely paced, and with the focus locked on the evolving dynamic between Katie and Jamie. The few moments when the production steps outside of the naturalistic dialogue, (for a joyful dance routine and a breathless assembling of a vision of the future using a bag of vegetables), are well handled and add genuine value to the story-telling rather than impeding the smooth flow.

The patch of joyless grey carpet that covers the small stage becomes gradually covered in the detritus of the couple’s long night of snacking, boozing and soul-searching. Empty bottles, crisp packets, chocolate wrappers, cans, hummus, flowers and a half-eaten carrot. Stuff has been opened up, emptied out, picked apart, spilt across the carpet, chewed up and spat out – both physically and emotionally.

Zucchini is a keenly observed and superbly performed portrait of a relationship at a crossroads, that also incisively explores the potential for two people to step outside society’s strictures and forge a new way forward – one that makes them whatever they want to be.

Theatre Unlocked.

53two.

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