Theatre review: Between the Sheets, The Basement

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The teacher (Beth Allen) and mother ( Jennifer Ward-Lealand) meet head on.
The teacher (Beth Allen) and mother ( Jennifer Ward-Lealand) meet head on.

There's an immediate frisson of friction between the two characters - a teacher and a mother - in this hour-long, real-time conversation. It's not long before we find out why: the mother (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) accuses the teacher (Beth Allen) of having an affair with her husband.

Cue one-upmanship (one-upwomanship?), and a handful of funny lines, cliches and revelations as they score points off each other with mounting accusations.

The teacher judges the mother's pre-judgement: "Everything I say to you is going to seem young or stupid or whatever it is you think I am."

Knowledge is power: who knows their man best? Who knows what's best for his son? The play considers the possibility that the only thing worse than hearing your spouse is having an affair is hearing that your spouse is having an affair that's "not about sex". Because, you know, they connect so deeply.

Canadian Jordi Mand's first play has been sensibly and skilfully transported to a New Zealand setting. Jane Hakaraia's immaculate, detailed hyperrealist set shows a primary school classroom: Ward-Lealand occasionally folds herself into one of the tiny chairs while children's artworks - multiple portraits of people in blue and white hooped rugby jerseys - grin mockingly down at her with sharp pointed teeth.

Directed by Sophie Roberts, the two actors work well to keep interest up in this virtual radio play, and falter realistically when they get worked up, rather than being too-smoothly articulate. Many of the exchanges are satisfying.

But the characters are two-dimensional; the corporate breadwinning mother actually says at one point: "everything I do is for them [my family]." Reproductive choices and fulfilments available to women are presented as limited. This isn't a feminist play; it's two females, almost solely defined by their family and marital status, scrapping over a male. Is the invisible husband, their Godot, really worth fighting about? The question as to whether he really wants to be with either of them is also left unanswered.

- NZ Herald

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