I wonder if I understand Jon Fosse's play. What I do know on my pulses is that the 70 minutes of Patrice Chéreau's production at the Young Vic constitute some of the greatest theatre I have ever witnessed. Three men in a boat? No – two men on a sailing vessel. Or maybe one man divided. They are called, slightly irritatingly, The One and The Other and they are played flawlessly by Tom Brooke and Jack Laskey.
The proceedings begin when Tom Brooke collapses and needs to be lifted and held for quite a long time by Jack Laskey in a pieta position. They talk to each other as if out of time, in a rapturously rhythmic and beautiful translation by Simon Stephens. Anyone who has had to talk him or herself out of suicide will recognise the truthfulness of Fosse's writing. "I didn't want to/I just did it." The play rips reality apart in taking it from that very peculiar point that the unimaginable has been more than imagined. It's been followed through. "But you were so afraid it would happen." And it seems it did.
Tom Brooke looks hollowed out like a super-sensitive Halloween turnip. Jack Laskey is acutely moving as The Other – he seems to know in advance the impulses of his (possibly) alter ego and to be exhausted from the agonising responsibility of talking him out of what is a deadly foregone conclusion. The production is breathtakingly beautiful. The boat lifts and tilts and water gushes and swarms underneath it. The superb spare set – what is it with the Young Vic and water? – is by Richard Peduzzi and the lovely rippling light is by Dominique Bruguière.
The antiphonal to-and-fro between the men and the extraordinary tenderness of their messed-up mutuality are a thing of wonder. There is an extraordinary moment where, though (I'm assuming) dead, Brooke rises sodden and Laskey fights to remain sane. The funny thing is that it does not feel as homoerotic as you might think. The writing and the direction suggest that though they may, at one level, be conjoined selves, each is unutterably lost in his individual loneliness. I have never liked Fosse's work before (I am the critic who said that his forename was pronounced "Yawn" for good reason). I take it back. This is a great piece of international co-production and further proof that the Young Vic is one of our great producing theatres.
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