With all the 9/11-themed theatre this month I guess there was always a chance I'd catch one of these shows on the 10th anniversary itself. Although once more the attacks only provide a starting point, this being a Neil LaBute play (written in 2002) the focus will be on the darkest side of human nature on a much more intimate scale. In The Mercy Seat
, Ben and Abby have been having an affair for 3 years. He's married, she's 12 years older than him and his boss. On the morning of 9/11 Ben is meant to be at the WTC but instead he's in Abby's apartment getting a blow job when the towers come down. We find them nearly 24 hours later, still there, ignoring their ringing phones as they try to decide whether they should pretend Ben died in the attacks and run away together.
In this production directed by Rob Watt and designed by Nik Corrall, Abby's apartment, including the TV with rolling news footage on, is covered in sheer material, as if it and the world outside are blurred in the background with their relationship the only thing that matters. Occasionally they're brought back to the reality of what's going on but it's still too big for them to get their heads round, they focus instead on whether they can use it to their own advantage. But LaBute sees the way the two treat each other as a much smaller scale battleground, with petty attacks on each other that they know will have a devastating effect. It's 100 minutes of a single scene between two people, as was the recent In a Forest, Dark and Deep
and though on balance this is the superior play, it doesn't have IaFDaD
's advantage of an underlying mystery to push the story forward, so the lovers' arguments do become cyclical at times. The two actors give intense performances, Janine Ingrid Ulfane had the edge for me, with Sean O'Neil a bit vocally one-note for the first half hour or so, matching up to his co-star more as the evening goes on though. There's some dark humour but not as much as usual, this isn't always an easy watch but it's a rewarding one.The Mercy Seat
by Neil LaBute is booking until the 18th of September at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington.