This double-bill of dramatisations has been a long-time labour of love for actor Robert Bathurst, and his passion shows. He pours himself into both A Scattering and The Song of Lunch, Christopher Reid’s acclaimed poetic stories of, well, love, loss and chianti.
A Scattering details the death from cancer of Reid’s wife, actress Lucinda Gane. Jumping between their last holiday in Crete and the hospice where she spent her final days, it’s a whirlwind of grief that contains a touching tribute to the theatre. “I was proud to be married to a member of the tribe,” he tells us of his proxy association.
Bathurst effectively captures the sense of a poet in mourning, a man whose eloquence cannot save him from the cold reality of loss. But his rapid-fire delivery of a too-dense text leaves little time to savour the language and really gain a foothold on the man himself.
Rebecca Johnson does her best with the underwritten, though clearly fabulous, Lucinda – “I’m being radiant again, aren’t I?” – but really comes into her own in The Song of Lunch, a sharply drawn duologue that casts her as the former lover of Bathurst’s failed poet, as they reunite for lunch in a Soho restaurant.
Richly comic and also poignant in its connection to the first piece, with allusions to Orpheus’ quest to find Eurydice in the underworld, it’s the most inherently dramatic of the two. It also sees Bathurst give a masterclass in ‘drunk acting’, as he attempts to drown his frustrations in wine: “The old male gaze, through alcoholic haze.”
Jason Morell’s economic production is illustrated by animations by Charles Peattie that help to give a sense of geography – they prove particularly effective when Bathurst cartoonishly stumbles upstairs at the restaurant. But despite such visual flair, it’s hard to escape the feeling that this material is not especially well suited to the stage. It left me hankering to revisit Reid’s original texts which, perhaps, is no bad thing.