The actor Geoffrey Streatfeild is brilliant at entwining the dishy and the dodgy and at proving that all that glisters is not gold. It's a talent that was exemplified in his recent performance as a mesmeric amoralist in Katie Mitchell's NT production of Bruckner's Pains of Youth. In Eigengrau – Penelope Skinner's biting new black comedy about the penalties of living in an apparently post-feminist, Facebook- and Gumtree-centred society – Streatfeild is on terrific form again as the kind of ex-public school marketing man who wouldn't know a genuinely feminist feeling if it bit him
A finely focused four-hander, the play unfolds, in the main, as a series of duologues. The acuity of the authorial observation is enhanced by Polly Findlay's sharp traverse-staging which places the couples in a narrow, confrontation-promoting strip of ground between the looming banks of audience. At the start, Streatfeild's Mark has just bedded Rose (superb Sinead Matthews), a unstable romantic who's earning a living as a karaoke hostess in a tacky bar. Her young landlady is Cassie (Alison O'Donnell), who works as a lobbyist for feminist causes and is currently writing a speech inveighing against websites that cater for men who want to watch "genuine" rape scenes. Rose is, therefore not an ideal lodger and Mark, too, has flat-sharing problems in the bulky shape of Tim (lovely John Cummins). He's an old university mate who opted out of the rat race to care for his beloved and recently deceased grandfather, leaving him (according to Mark) with nothing to look forward to but "a new species of fungus growing under [his] big fat man boobs", unless he pulls his finger out.
The quartet becomes entangled in a cat's-cradle of self-deception and deceit. Skinner proves that she has an acute ear for the would-be poker games, the reciprocal inequalities of sincerity, and the crackpot cross-purposes that are the province of two-handed conversation.
The title Eigengrau is the German word for the colour ("intrinsic grey") seen by the eye in perfect darkness. Rose swears by the significance of colours (she also has only four numbers on her mobile – one of them being The Daily Mirror's astrological helpline). It's a token of the play's underlying compassion that it does not view the plight of this foursome through eyes that are yellow with jaundice.
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