The Dreadful Hours

Elinor Randle and Yorgos Karamalegos
Elinor Randle and Yorgos Karamalegos

Tmesis (pronounced tuh-mes-is) are a physical theatre company who have toured nationally and internationally to critical and popular acclaim. The Dreadful Hours is the result of a collaboration between the company, acclaimed Northwest playwright Chris Fittlock and director Javier Marzan from Peepolykus (pronounced people-like-us) theatre company. The show is on tour at various UK venues until December.

The story follows an ordinary couple’s relationship, from their first meeting through to an anniversary dinner and beyond. The years that have passed between them are framed by the tired ritual of a meal in a restaurant, highlighting their banal existence and the contempt of their familiarity. The audience are transported backwards and forwards in time and given glimpses of memorable moments in their relationship, first flushes of love, lust and early romantic gestures through to darker days of jarring and frustration. There is also a more abstract motif which reoccurs throughout, a surreal edge-of-a-cliff-in-a-storm landscape where the couple cling together and toy with the idea of jumping over the edge, representing the inner world of their relationship, a brutal co-dependent love-hate that keeps them together.

So much of what is expressed physically by Yorgos Karamalegos and Elinor Randal goes beyond words. Heightened by a very powerful soundscape designed by Xenia Bayer, the movements are reaching, grasping and visceral. I particularly enjoyed the opening cacophony of sound which seems to represent every moment of the couple’s relationship simultaneously, while the two performers are physically helpless, caught in the swirling timeless surreal blur of their history.

The Dreadful Hours is the first project where the company have worked with a script writer and the experiment is clearly a success. The language, which initially seems banal, offers layers of resonance as the words and themes reoccur revealing more and more weight and meaning as the rest of the story is revealed. At one point, for example, a discussion about the most desirable colour for the restaurant walls becomes a beautiful conversation about the many different shades of blue which echo in later scenes. The script is poetic and well observed. It compliments the sections of movement without feeling ‘bolted on’ and the way the language threads through from one scene to the next is very satisfying.

The company’s aim is to be accessible and communicative and this piece certainly achieves this. Some of the movement is abstract but this feature is used sparingly and subtly and joyfully enhances the experience of the work rather than alienating the audience. The two characters circumstances and situation are immediately recognisable and full of humorous human truths which generate numerous laughs throughout the performance.

On tour until 1st December details on website