Review by David Munro
HAD someone not already appropriated it, this play could have
been more aptly entitled Strangers On A Train for that
is the premise of Yasmina Reza’s The Unexpected
A middle aged man, Paul (Peter Bowles) is sitting in a train
carriage opposite Martha (Sian Phillips). Paul is a successful
novelist and Martha has a copy of his latest novel – The
Unexpected Man - in her handbag.
Paul is going to his daughter’s wedding to an older man
he disapproves of; the purpose of Martha’s journey is unexplained.
Neither address the other until the very end of the evening
and the play consists of their thoughts expressed in alternating
monologues – ought one to be seen reading the novel when
the author is across the carriage from one? Should my daughter
be marrying a man old enough to be her father? What does my life’s
work add up to?
And so on and so forth...
Paul’s ponderous pontificating on Life, Parenthood, Art
and Literature (especially his own works) are nicely counterpointed
by Martha’s more amused urbane view of herself and her life.
This culminates in an explosion of laughter when they ultimately
get to speaking to each other that nicely rounds off the piece.
As will be appreciated, such externalisation
of thoughts and emotions need a very deft touch if they are not
to become tedious and sententious.
In this respect, Yasmin Reza is admirably served by her cast,
both of whom give her lines their full value and manage to gloss
over the more tendentious moments of the evening with skill and
Peter Bowles makes Paul’s inner anguishing on his life
and his growing awareness of his carriage companion and her possible
identity – he surmises she is the mistress of a conductor
going to give him his conge - compelling listening, while Sian
Phillips gives Martha a charm and sincerity which makes her final
approach toward what may or may not turn out to be a relationship
It is an evening where the pleasure comes from watching two consummate
actors displaying their considerable gifts with dexterity and
lightness of touch.
The structure of the play seems designed to act as a showcase
for talent and Peter Bowles and Sian Phillips more than rise to
the occasion making the process of juxtaposing their monologues,
which could have appeared disjointed and distracting, into a seamless
While some of the credit for this must go to the director, Deborah
Bruce, I felt nevertheless that, with two lesser talents, this
could have been a very boring hour and a half.
As it was, although The Unexpected Man is not a perfect
play, Peter Bowles and Sian Phillips made it an evening to remember.
The Unexpected Man. By Yasmin Reza, translated by Christopher
Directed by Deborah Bruce
Designer – Imogen Cloet.
Lighting – Natasha Chivers.
Sound – Rich Walsh.
CAST: Peter Bowles; Sian Phillips.
Presented by Theatre Royal Bath Productions.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ
Tues, May 3 – Sat, May 7, 2005
Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm.
Box Office: 0870 060 6651