The Key

Reviewer's Rating

The Key is a simple tale of two brothers (Michael Nowak and Mateusz Mirek) who wish to behave badly. Sometimes to each other and sometimes enabling their poor treatment of others. The title refers to the apartment key of the younger brother which is bartered between them to allow for a private rendezvous place for each of them and their illicit partners in turn.

There is a great deal of promise in The Key. At its best, the writing has real elements of Beckett (which it self-consciously references) but mixed with French farce. Some of the time this odd combination really works well, particularly in the more spare first half. However, by the end, there was just too much going on for either element to work.

The first half takes place in a cafe in Budapest. The two brothers – onstage as we arrive – bicker and argue and eat (quite deliberately disgustingly). The plot – in the best tradition of Beckett – doesn’t really go anywhere, but nor does it need to. The relationships between the brothers and the waiter are brought to life through absurdist exaggeration and in this tightly formatted section, this is allowed to breath and work.

The audience is booted out of the theatre at the interval, and on our return, you can absolutely see why. The set has been transformed from a minimal one depicting a cafe with just chairs and a table to a fully stocked, highly detailed messy and lived-in apartment. While the transformation was astonishing, unfortunately, it also signalled a turn in the style of the play that was less impressive.

The second half of The Key is something of a mess. And the thing about good farce is that however much it might feel baffling to the characters inside it, it should not be so for the audience. Here the balance was very much the other way around. There were too many added elements, too many plot twists, too many characters. It was too hard to follow or engage with.

There were also some odd acting choices that really didn’t work. While Michael Nowak’s mannered performance was exceptionally charming, as it drew you into an otherwise unlovable character, the really exceptionally mannered performance of Susan Brooke as his wife didn’t work at all with the expanded cast and was just jarring. As was the completely unnecessary addition of the parents.

The first half of The Key shows real promise from Andreas Forgach. The second half was like watching a different play entirely. One day, I would love to see what he could do if he just worked with the original elements as there is a genuine nugget of gold in there.