One Flea Spare directed by Gowrie Varma and Ellie Greenwood is a thrilling and visceral theatrical experience.
When I read a synopsis of this play I was sceptical. Set in 17th century London at the height of the plague epidemic, the play explores the experiences of a married couple and two squatters who have been quarantined in a house together. I was certain that it would be a two-hour lament about class conflict, death and a Lord Of the Flies-esque questioning of morality.
In the end the play did cover all of those areas, but Varma and Greenwood have ensured that rather than a two hour lament it views as a fast paced and gripping character study. Their casting is faultless. Andrew Eddey and Sarah Heywood (Mr and Mrs Snellgrave respectively) exude a bitterness and disdain for one another that is worryingly realistic, while Lewis McDonald (Bunce) and George Mitton (Kabe) are able to toe the line between humour and confronting existential darkness with relative ease. Mitton is agile, cheeky and almost feline as he moves across the stage, and his bawdy songs are endlessly entertaining. Cheski Walker’s (Morse) performance is exceptional and haunting. Her movements are deliberate, her speech playful and her acting effortlessly manic.
The power of the acting and the gravity of the subject matter is intensified by the immaculate set design and lighting. The backdrop of chair legs, crates and tables is ingenious at communicating the disarray of society and the inner turmoil that the characters are experiencing. Varma and Greenwood have been skilful in their use of the tiny theatre space and manage to create multiple interesting dimensions. Their choice of entirely white costuming is stark, forcing you to confront the twisted and complex characters before you.
One Flea Spare is dark, challenging and at times altogether frightening, but it is also elegant. There is no wallowing or weeping involved in this production – it is a bare representation of a less than ideal situation, and it rings with honesty. The cast and crew are to be congratulated. This is a must see.