My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Two couples, four dinner parties: Nick is a journalist who does carpentry on the side – not to make ends meet but bring the ends at least within sight of each other – while his wife Rachel is a former musician whose income from giving lessons don't bring those ends much closer together. Her multiple miscarriages and Nick's glacial progress on his novel symbolise the couple's failure to achieve and conceive.
Nick's old university friend Amy and her husband Simon are everthing Nick and Rachel aren't: they have children and jobs, with Simon's work in the law ensuring they are never short of money. But their friendship is unshakable – until Amy and Simon use an unexpected and un-needed inheritance to bail their friends out and gratitude slowly turns to resentment.
Fiona Peek's debut play is funny, sharply observed and often poignant. It's also the most difficult script I've ever had to learn. Every movement has to be precise, while there are several lines that change the subject completely, such as offers of food or drink or Simon interrupting a discussion of Amy and Nick's university years with an anecdote about a compensation case. Every play has some of these logical jumps, but Salt has far more than most.
And then there's the eating and drinking. Amid all the quick-fire dialogue, all the characters have to prepare food, eat it, share it, open bottles, recharge glasses, drink and open more bottles. Not only must you make sure your glass or plate is empty, you even have to make sure the bottle is empty when it's your cue to get another. And of course, you've got to make sure your mouth is empty when it's your turn to speak, though sometimes you have to speak with a mouthful of food and do it so everyone in the theatre can hear you (NICK: "You're just a bitter, pre-menopausal old hag who's … God this is fantastic"]. And this isn't just one difficult scene; it's the whole play. And spare a thought for the backstage crew who have to prepare the food.
Get it right and you'll have a cracking night's entertainment (I hope we will: at the time of writing we've got a week till first night). But don't under-estimate the amount of work required.
It also has the odd flaw: Nick's short speech about Rachel and the baby in the final scene makes no sense at all in the context of what has gone before:
"At last I've got them home. [Where from? Hospital maybe?]. The same rush all over again [Again? What rush? From where to where?]. The second coming [What was the first?]. Took him to Kew yesterday. First family outing [So did this baby spend its first three months in hospital? If so, would you really take him to Kew straight off and then leave him with friends the next night?]".It reads like a reference to something that was cut from an earlier draft.
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