As The Woman removes her outer garments to reveal The Dress for the first time; or The Man takes off his hat, immediately transforming from predator to prey, you realise that The Dress Affair is – literally and thematically – a multi-layered work.
The latest production from Edinburgh-based new writing collective Tightlaced Theatre, The Dress Affair is an interpretation of a lyrical piece by Brazilian poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Its origin is most obvious in its dialogue, which flows with rhythm and tonal shape, accentuated by the live understated musical accompaniment.
Writer Rob David has done an excellent job of taking the classic premise of a passion-driven eternal triangle, deconstructing it and reframing it as an imaginative non-sequential work told in flashback, which toys with the narrative structure as much as it does with the characters and our notion of reality.
The Man, played confidently by Andrew Henry, seeks atonement for past sins as The Woman (Danielle Farrow) tries to free herself from his emotional strings with the aid of her young therapist. And, brooding at the centre of this lust-spun web, sits The Dress itself – as much a character of the piece as the rest.
Staging is simple yet effective, with fast lighting changes and mood music used to indicate changes in time, place and character. As the light snaps from stark white to steamy warmth, so the actors flip from one role to the next, any confusion avoided by David’s cohesive script and tight direction from Flavia D’Avila.
Farrow is a highlight, and it is engrossing to watch as she flits between the sweat-drenched wiles of the mistress and the cowed nervousness of the wife. Whether moving hypnotically in a dance of seduction as one, or twitchily evading the therapist’s questions as the other, her versatile performance is unstrained and engrossing.
There are a few points in the piece where humour appears; this almost threatens to rip apart the carefully-woven fabric of obsession and drama which The Dress Affair has worked so hard to create. Fortunately however, these are brief and few, and the claustrophobic pulsing rhythm is soon restored.
What then of the charges of misogyny that this play has been accused of? It is, as with many things, there if you look for it. The husband is unlikeable and cruel in his attitude to the two women in his life; and they in turn have hints of the Madonna / whore roles about them. Yet none of this appears glorified or exploitative – instead, the lust-blinded motivations are believable and teased out to a satisfying conclusion.
Perhaps most telling of all however, is that the most powerful character in this provocatively sensual and compelling new work – The Dress itself – is personified as female.
The Dress Affair runs until 11 September at The GRV, 7.30-8.30pm. More details are on Tightlaced Theatre’s website.