This review was originally written for EdFringeReview.com
Florence Read’s Twin Primes was awarded Best Script by playwright Lucy Kirkwood at the Oxford New Writing Festival earlier this year, and it is entirely obvious why. Read’s play – essentially just a series of short vignettes stitched together with only the merest hint of a thread running through them – is understated, intelligent, and enormously powerful.
A two-hander, adeptly performed by Catherine Piner and Alexander Stott, it manages to captivate an audience not through an arcing storyline or a shocking twist, but simply through the delicate, tantalising nature of each adroitly constructed conversation between two. Aside from the occasional scene appearing a little too contrived, a little too forced, Twin Primes is a masterpiece in subtly suspenseful writing, not dissimilar to early Pinter and his ‘comedies of menace’.
Some scenes are faintly humourous – a cannibal (Stott) and his meal (Piner) tentatively making idle small-talk feels like something straight from the pen of Martin McDonagh – but the majority are serious. The audience is typically uncertain as to the exact relationship of the two characters presented to begin with, and only as small hints are meticulously dropped do the exact nature of the scenes become clearer (although never is the audience entirely certain they have grasped the right end of the stick. Is Stott actually talking about cannibalism, or something more innocent? Is Piner’s shallow businessman-on-a-train really responsible for the suicide of a deaf lap-dancer?)
The professed commonality that links all scenes is apparently their characters’ need to communicate, but their ultimate failure to do so. Thus, Stott’s cannibal finds it impossible to comfortably broach the topic of his unconventional appetite; and thus a step-father and son at a football match find themselves unable to easily discuss the latter’s homosexuality (often this inability to communicate is presented as the product of an age-difference, or an emotional instinct to remain unconfessed). People find it difficult to talk about difficult things, seems to be Read’s message, although this simplification belies such a message’s power and pathos when it is delivered so emphatically.
Both Stott and Piner are commendably versatile. They are constantly in view. The stripped-back set consists of a variety of simple props and a washing-line of clothes arranged to the rear of the stage. Scott and Piner seize upon these as they change character from one scene to the next, then discard them again. It is a simple and interesting solution to a lack of technical space, and actually helps to suggest some unity between the vignettes.
Twin Primes is a fine production. It is well-acted and well-conceived, but it is Florence Read’s superb script that truly impresses. She is a writer of rare talent, who deserves attention.