Time can feel long when you don’t know what you’re doing. Jeanine, drifts unmoored between sex with mask-making Victor and lessons with her ballet teacher Synda. The mess of Jeanine’s apartment forms a mirror to her deep, unmentioned unhappiness.
Clare Barron’s Dirty Crusty sets these things up like a tightrope walk, the fall inevitable, but we never really get a sense of that danger.
There’s dynamism in the way the play juxtaposes its idiosyncratic ideas. Does Jeanine want discipline through dance or is it Synda’s love she’s after? Does she want to feel power through sex, or freedom? Akiya Henry shape-shifts in the role of Jeanine, her performance balletic and unbridled, while Douggie McMeekin nails the comic awkwardness of the gormless/sinister Victor. Alongside them, Abiona Omonua brings shimmering grace and balance to Synda.
A promising thread of childishness and recklessness runs through these characters and how they relate to one another – or fail to. Emma Bailey’s design emphasises this: it consists of a simple doll’s house that’s dismantled by Jeanine and Victor as they sing about growing older over a wash of synths.
The play’s capacity to unsettle and move us remains half-buried. Barron’s dialogue mixes observed mundanity with bursts of fervent transgression. It opens with some real talk about reusing underwear, body odour and panty liners. These characters are begging to let roar. Yet the potential for emotional depth feels muted and Jay Miller’s direction allows the actors little opportunity to play.
You’d expect more sensitivity and attention to be given to the things that crawl beneath the surface – that’s where the truth lies.