John Webber’s intriguing debut play bides its time.
Esther (Lia Burge) and former cab driver Keith (Matt Whitchurch) sit across a table from one another. At first it seems as if they’re on a date – they’re nervous and wary of one another, but also mutually curious.
Gradually it becomes clear that there is something else going on. Lizzy Leech’s neon-edged, grey institutional setting is the clue. Esther is visiting Keith in prison, though Webber holds back the nature of his crime.
These scenes are interspersed with Esther’s equally halting dates with Chris, also played by Whitchurch, an elusive academic that Esther met through Tinder, who spends his days hopping from conference to conference.
In its economical way, Spiderfly speaks volumes about damage and masculinity. The relationship that develops between Esther and Keith is unsettling in the way it intermingles attraction and repulsion. Most of her encounters with Chris on the other hand take place via Skype; he’s distant in more ways than one, while Keith is tantalisingly present.
Kirsty Patrick Ward’s production is tautly directed and well-performed by Burge, who captures Esther’s complexity, her deep-seated need to look into the face of the man who carried out an appalling act against someone she held dear and see whether or not she is capable of forgiveness.
Whitchurch is also good as the simmering Keith, his rage barely contained beneath a gruff, occasionally charming veneer. The character of Chris is a bit of a cartoon in contrast, and the scenes between him and Esther feel distracting and tacked-on, defusing some of the tension and impact of the emotional games being played.