Unfaithful, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Traverse Theatre Company
Owen McCafferty (writer), Rachel O'Riordan (director), Gary McCann (designer), Kevin Treacy (lighting)
Benny Young (Tom), Cara Kelly (Joan), Amiera Darwish (Tara), Owen Whitelaw (Peter).
Running time

The simple, stark title says it all. From Othello (1603) to Betrayal, (1978) playwrights have perpetually returned to the subject of infidelity to assess and analyse the failings in human nature, deception, dishonesty, the green-eyed monster of jealousy.

The power of sexual attraction is the recurring dark theme of movie plots such as Unfaithful, Fatal Attraction, Love Actually, The Graduate, to Woody Allen’s wry, romantic comedies.

In Unfaithful by Owen McCafferty, the lives of two very different couples become intertwined through separate brief encounters.

Tom, a plumber, and Joan, a dinner lady in their mid-fifties, have been married for thirty years, their student daughter now living away from home; the family unit has changed, close bonds broken.

The familiar setting of a smart hotel bar - banquette, soft lighting, muzak. Tom, tall with balding grey hair in dusty work clothes, stands sipping his pint; the clichéd scenario, eyes meet across a crowded room, conversation ensues and the offer to buy a drink. But it’s 20-something Tara, in a tight, denim mini skirt, who initiates the first move.

They’re interrupted by the ringing of his mobile; it’s Joan, checking up on him, “Are you heading home?” After a few pints, he tells her, and then the first lie, “just standing here on my own”.

In a few staccato lines of chit chat, discussing whether to have fish for supper, the awkward tension is clear. Trying to sound unconcerned, Joan’s tone of voice implies a simmering annoyance, sitting alone at home waiting for him.

Over a pint, they share their feelings of being trapped, disillusioned with life. Whether out of pity or loneliness, Tara suggests a quick fuck, as if that’s a cure-all for their problems.

Tom confesses to Joan what happened, the indecent proposal, the explicit detail, barking out the words like a boxer’s punch, cajoling his wife to fight back, to express her feelings about their fractured marriage.

Following the craze for 'revenge porn' on social media, Joan resorts to a more physical approach and books Peter, a young male escort for a night in a hotel room. From a woman scorned, she’s now a glamorous cougar in red dress and heels, empowered by the enticing frisson of this zipless fuck, free of remorse and guilt.

Minimalist in structure and plot, where very little actually happens, the theatricality is enhanced by the filmic realism of stage sets and lighting from bar to bedroom, morning to night.

Benny Young and Cara Kelly portray Tom and Joan with profound, heartfelt understanding, their expressions of regret, resentment, of love lost but not forgotten.

The dialogue is sharp as a dagger, bickering bouquets of barbed wire, layered with irony, quick wit and moments of poignant silence.

Astutely directed, this is a sharp, shocking, intimate bedroom farce of a drama, a series of precisely choreographed duets as if viewed through a camera lens.

Leaving Traverse 1 at the end of the performance, two young men were discussing the play: “I didn’t think that was the end … I was expecting to see the daughter arrive . . . I thought it would return to the young couple”.

It just shows how much the audience was drawn into the fictional tale.

An insightful, truthful psychological portrait of a marriage on the rocks and the lure of dangerous liaisons.

Show times: 1 - 24 August (not 11, 18). Different times daily.
Ticket prices: £ 19/14/8