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Poison review at Orange Tree Theatre, London – ‘quietly unflinching’

Zubin Varla and Claire Price in Poison at Orange Tree Theatre, London. Photo: The Other Richard Zubin Varla and Claire Price in Poison at Orange Tree Theatre, London. Photo: The Other Richard
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Bereaved, divorced parents She and He meet at the cemetery in which their son is buried. He’s received a letter about toxic contamination that could mean the moving of many graves. It’s been 10 years since they’ve seen each other – since he walked out.

There’s an unsparing quality to Dutch writer Lot Vekemans’ Poison – an almost forensic exploration of the hard, sharp edges of grief and loss that Rina Vergano’s translation catches in spiky, broken sentences.

Orange Tree Theatre artistic director Paul Miller delves into the play’s gaps and pauses in its UK premiere. A water fountain burps, a coffee machine clinks and clunks. Time unspools in long silences against Simon Daw’s chilly, blue-carpeted set, with its odd-angled benches.

Vekemans counterpoints the way the ex-couple have dealt with their son’s death. He, a writer, is turning it into sentences and full stops. She carries it with her, angrily rejecting his attempts to shape it into the past.

Claire Price’s She is brittle and in pain, with a smile that flashes like a blade. Zubin Varla’s He peers out from beneath heavily furrowed brows, as if he’s trying to see her from a great distance. His shambolic quality softens the play’s gradual move to his perspective.

The cliff-edge of their relationship powers the production’s best moments, when it tips over into bruising truthfulness. But the spare writing is increasingly sparse, saying less the longer the play lasts. She and He feel locked into their debate, kept in the same space through a series of contrivances.

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UK premiere of a quietly unflinching play exploring the effects of loss