It’s difficult to imagine how a story about a middle-aged white couple having an extra-marital affair could still have anything new to say in the theatre, yet the challenge has been taken on by Kenny Emson and his new play Rust which is playing at the Assembly Roxy this Edinburgh Fringe.
Kenny Emson is a hugely talented writer, usually tackling more cutting edge themes, so it comes a surprise to find this very suburban drama play out in front of us. Daniel (Jon Foster) and Nadia (Claire Lams) are both married, but not to each other of course, and both have children and careers to consider.
Nadia is clearly the most successful of the two, with Daniels job as a clock repairer given a boost through a recurring motif of time. It’s incredibly middle class, with the couple being able to afford to rent a flat for Monday afternoon trysts, and while Nadia turns her nose up at the thought of Ikea furniture there’s the underlying worry of being caught which leads to the creation of their own set of commandments.
There are hints that the play could take a different direction at any moment; Daniel and Nadia discuss spicing up the relationship, there’s a close shave as Daniel’s wife shops close to the flat, and as they bend and then break their own rules we hope for something shocking to emerge. Yet, nothing does, the characters continue to wallow in their own self pity that is of their own creation.
Emson faces the same issue that Pinter faced with Betrayal, these characters are just too unlikeable for the audience to really become engaged with their story. Director, Eleanor Rhode has ensured that the play keeps a pace but the story reaches its natural conclusion long before the play actually ends.
Rust does look good visually, designer Max Johns, has used piles of crumpled pillows to create the feel of this half-lived in flat, it allows the characters to jump and cavort around in free abandon. The stage is surrounded by vertical strip lighting (lighting designer Jess Bernberg) which fade in and out creating a spectrum of colours to expand the atmosphere on stage, it’s a similar style to that which worked so well in Emson’s Plastic at The Old Red Lion in London.
While there’s a sense that Rust is trying to say something new, it ultimately feels like the same story we’ve heard before, told in much the same way, with characters who are more familiar than we would like them to be. Visually it looks great, but the story becomes repetitive and quickly becomes unengaging.
Main Image Credit: Helen Murray