Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful is an intensely voyeuristic piece. This is partly due to the intimacy of Found111 as a venue – crammed in tight around the stage, the audience has no choice but to be confronted with every detail of the actors’ performances. It is, however, also down to Adam Pendford’s direction: he has the characters watching at the side of the stage, acting almost as stage-hands as they help other characters dress or move props. In a play where two different relationships (the older Tom and Joan, and the younger Tara and Peter) merge and briefly twist together, the direction hints at a kind of larger interconnection between people. However, the sense of voyeurism is often more uncomfortable than not – with a sense of palpable relief following one particular fade to black. The theme of interconnectedness, in contrast, feels half-hearted: the steps toward reconciliation feel temporary and incomplete.
This is not entirely a bad thing. Unfaithful is a play about the ‘I don’t knows’, the confusion of striving for something you are unable to articulate. Joan (Niamh Cusack) feels as if she is constantly on the edge of breaking – or of breaking out – but, despite some vitriolic expletives, it never quite happens. Cusack – who delivers the caustic laugh lines with real conviction – is excellent, giving a real sense of a character who is constantly teetering, but never quite able to fall. In the same vein, all four characters are driven by the desire to feel something, the overwhelming fear of apathy, sexual instinct acting as a false lifeline. The play is laced with an existential Beckettian edge, but does not quite hit those heights – or depths.
The crux of Unfaithful’s problem is that Tara and Peter (the angsty Ruta Gedmintas and an appropriately restless Matthew Lewis) are not nearly as fleshed out as Tom and Joan. Whilst Tom and Joan see their roles and vulnerabilities reversed, Tom (Sean Campion) looking oddly small in his vest and boxers, Tara and Peter seem to go around in circles. There is not enough there to convince – either of their affection for one another (when, at one point, Tara seems as if she may leave, it is difficult to muster much opposition to the idea), or of the depth of their existential angst. Tom and Joan share a strange kind of pragmatic affection, built on the undeniable weight of shared history, and that is just not there for Tara and Pete. The lack of real warmth throughout their interactions becomes almost exhausting to watch by the end of the play.
The play ends with Joan giving herself one last, frustrated look at herself in the mirror. It is unclear what she sees reflected back, and Unfatihful is a bit like that. Built on high aspirations, ultimately, Unfaithful is unsatisfying; an imperfect reflection on the characters’ lives.