When it comes to obscure illnesses, the Americans lead the way in converluted labels. The English on the other hand prefer something more succinct or brief to describe their conditions. Tom Kempinski's play Separation about two cripples demonstrates this. Sarah Wise in an actress suffering from Relapsive Peripheral Polyneuropathy Of Unknown Origin, whereas Joe Green is simply A Rat, whose creative skills as a writer are submerged beneath his inability to cope with childhood trauma. Sarah struggles on, despite her handicap, whereas Joe is a slave to his condition. The two meet via a transatlantic telephone call as Sarah tries to re-establish her acting career by performing in one of Joe's plays - The Empty Palette. They develop a relationship that demonstrates the differences between them and similarities that bind them. As a result Joe starts writing again after five years of writer's block and Sarah starts acting again care of his previous work. They become emotionally and professionally entangled.
Any two-hander is going to be demanding, and Separation more than most. Kempinski's lacklustre script is both inconcise and unresolved and as a result requires animated performances and considerable empathy from the actors to communicate his message. The ideas and characters have not been fully thought through. Kempinski has embarked on an idea that has not been fully developed and as a result gets hopelessly lost in it's execution.
Given the shortcomings of the script, Separation requires a dynamic performance from the players, and this is something that was almost, but not quite delivered by either Emma Muir or Frank Bye. They understand their parts, but not in the bone, not in the marrow. They play their parts, but they do not become them. Passion was played out, rather than communicated. In particular, Frank's portrayal of Joe Green's despair in the second act was particularly unconvincing as he wailed and moaned his way through a tortuous scene of grief as he faced up to his buried emotions. On the other hand, his nervous handling of their first face-to-face meeting showed a grasp of timing and a talent for comic effect. Emma Muir as Sarah Wise lacked the maturity of the part - her anger portrayed by volume rather than self-assured thrust. However, both players tried hard to fulfil their roles and acheived a standard that would challenge many others.
Given the size of the stage the set was very well designed, with clever and imaginitive use of space. The use of a split stage and different levels in such a small area was quite an acheivement, as was the challenge of lighting such a confined space.
All-in-all though, there was no joy in the production. You didn't come away with the feeling that you had experienced or learned something. It was a dry production that left no after-taste, no lingering thoughts, no sense of I have been entertained. This is not wholly the fault of those that staged the production, but of the fundamental flaws in the play itself and it's construction. The Director Graham Kilner has made a brave attempt to stage a play that he clearly has a passion for, but at the end of the day, has failed to deliver entertainment or enlightenment.
Steve Beeston has been a member of The COMPANY of PLAYERS since 1995. He has been involved in many productions, including "Separation", as sound engineer. This unsolicited review was published in The Company's bi-monthly newsletter in addition to the officially commissioned review.