Jez Butterworth's plays get described as Pinteresque, which is handy for when you're not entirely sure what's going on. There certainly is a touch of the Pinter to Parlour Song, as the characters' conversations are slightly off-kilter, with a dreamlike quality in the suburban setting. Ned (Toby Jones) and Dale (Andrew Lincoln) are next-door neighbours who live in almost identical houses, in a housing development which only a couple of decades before was still a forest. There's an eerie tone from the start as Ned confides in Dale that every time he returns from a work trip he discovers some item of his (cufflinks, a watch, his lawnmower) has disappeared. Meanwhile Ned's wife Joy (Amanda Drew) has started to become distant from him, prompting a minor midlife crisis.
The tone is too affectionate for this to be a real satire on suburbia, but the characters aren't people you'd necessarily want to know in real life either, especially the ironically-named Joy. The play rattles along though, seeming shorter than its 100 minute running time, as it charts a couple of months in a particularly dry summer. I've enjoyed Amanda Drew in the two Marius von Mayenburg plays I've seen her in before, but here her husky style seems a bit limiting. Better are the two men, especially in their scenes together, where Ned has asked Dale to help him lose weight. There's great comic effect as they have a conversation while exercising - Jones' physical comedy nicely counterpointed by Lincoln's not-too-bright Dale often missing the point of any discussion. Ian Rickson's production gets darker as it goes on, helped tremendously by Jeremy Herbert's rotating set of identical houses and Steven Williams' creepy video projections. A mysterious little slice of life that nicely balances the comedy with the darkness.
A little something to interest the Potter fans tonight, as you got one cast member on stage and one in the audience: As well as Toby Jones (his programme notes list him returning in Deathly Hallows so if anyone was worried it looks like Dobby will get his death scene,) before going in I spotted David Bradley waiting to go in as well. (Despite having seen him in other roles on stage, it's still disconcerting to turn around and find Argus Filch staring right at you.)
Parlour Song by Jez Butterworth is booking until the 9th of May at the Almeida Theatre.