The plot of this 1993 drama is relatively straightforward – Phil and Kath (Samuel West, Lucy Tregeer), a young twenty-something couple, move into a new flat and perpetually argue about where to put the furniture, what kind of decoration to use, and how they can best arrange their existences in a small space. The flat used to belong to nosey neighbour Pat (Margaret Courtenay), who keeps coming to see the two current occupants and reminiscing about how the flat looked when she lived in it, bringing up her children and living with a crippled husband.
Frayn’s principal concern, however, lies in showing how Phil and Kath cannot agree on anything. But they are no Beatrice and Benedick or Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, happily sparring with one another yet fundamentally inseparable. On the contrary these two young lovers cannot face up to the realities of their relationship; that they are fundamentally incompatible. They might murmur ‘I love you,’ or ‘I cannot live with out you,’ to one another, but they are nothing more than meaningless platitudes. However they are not unique: Frayn shows how Pat’s previous life was equally dominated by a singular lack of communication. She never understood what her son wanted; her husband would only undertake specific duties, leaving the dirty work to his wife; and eventually everyone moved away, leaving Pat alone with little to look forward to except endless days of housework. She tries to connect with Phil and Kath; but she continually misunderstands their relationship – chiefly because she could never understand what was wrong with her own marriage. In this claustrophobic play, the confined space of Phil and Kath’s flat became a metaphor for their lives, while the ticking clock in the background suggested that life continued meaninglessly for both of them.
Eventually Phil and Kath decide to leave the apartment, in the belief that moving away will help them establish a new life. The play’s basic irony was particularly evident here; even if they did move away, their life would be much the same, as they made no effort to understand one another. Meanwhile Pat is left isolated; doomed to live the kind of life she has always led, even when her family were around.
Matthew Walters’s production offered a bleak view of life, reminding us that, while Frayn is best known for his comic plays such as Noises Off, he can also be a very serious writer too.