Opposites attract – and not just romantically. Elinor Cook's play is a stinging portrait of intense, mutually dependent female friendship in all its messy, maddening, loving glory.
Lorna and Grace are neighbours in some unspecified northern town. Grace is bright, strident, bossy; as she gets older she burns up with a compulsive desire to be touched, to have sex. She also longs to get out of a constrained home life – but is afraid to. Lorna is more measured, calm; as she gets older, despite being uneasy in her own body and not bothered about sex, she is constantly coupled up, afraid to be single. She also has a quiet but tenacious ambition.
Out of Love skips around chronologically in a rapid-fire welter of short scenes, from the girls as kids playing weddings to teenage encounters with blokes (never good enough for either of them, their own affection always more adamantine) to strained visits once their lives are on wildly different trajectories. Lorna has a sense of guilt: she thinks she's taken the career Grace deserved. She got a job with a publisher partly by claiming that as an ambitious teenager she'd interviewed the women of their post-industrial community – those unsung, worn-down women "just getting on with it" – because she wanted to capture their "unheard voices". Actually, it was Grace's project – the irony being that, stuck caring for her child and her dad, it is Grace that becomes one of the voiceless multitude.
There's some cracking writing in Cook's play, and Sally Messham as Lorna and Katie Elin-Salt as Grace both give terrifically animating, fiery performances. They're so completely connected to the other, you can almost see a beam of light between their hearts. Elin-Salt is especially fervent, almost feral as a young woman with just too many feelings brewing away inside her. They also manage the jumps between ages well, rapidly cueing us in so a scrambled time scheme is easy to follow. Hasan Dixon, who has an even greater challenge in having to skip across a multitude of different male characters, doesn't always quite nail it – there are occasional jarring accent shifts – although he does a fine line in awful posh chaps.
James Grieve's direction keeps the pacing both fluid and snappy; performed on a bare stage, there's no faffing with props, or even bothering to mime certain ‘actions'. But, as was also the case with Black Mountain at the same venue with the same cast/director, the writing itself feels a little constructed, hemmed in. This play feels like it wants to stretch out more than it's able to in 70 minutes. There are quite a few conversations or scenarios which escalate improbably quickly – Cook feels like she's rushing to get to the good stuff, but it jolts us out of totally believing in the friendship.
Given the play isn't really making any wider points – although celebrating and exploring female friendship is obviously a worthwhile subject in and of itself – we do need to believe fully, to go deep. It's rare to wish for a play to be twenty minutes longer, but I'd happily spend more time with these women.