Kicking off a bold 20th anniversary season at the Arcola Theatre, The Cutting Edge is a meandering meditation on art, class and the commodification of ideas from writer and director Jack Shepherd.
Slow-burning and cerebral, the show revolves around Anna and Chris, a formerly affluent couple struggling to adapt to a self-sufficient countryside lifestyle. As unspoken tensions overwhelm them, their isolation is punctured by the unexpected arrival of Elvira, an elderly, effervescently charismatic artist revisiting her old haunts.
Shepherd sets a turgid pace, dwelling on the, admittedly, keenly-observed rhythms of each developing conversation, from awkward small talk, to passive aggressive sniping, to pompous lectures on art history.
The show gets a significant lift from some spot-on performances, with Maggie Steed particularly dominating proceedings as the vivacious Elvira. Though unpredictable and overbearing, she remains inescapably charming, wobbling between frailty and flashing mischievousness. Michael Feast is similarly strong as her companion Zak, an ageing Brighton-beach rocker with a twinkle in his eye and a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the snobbery of the artistic establishment.
Meanwhile, Jasmine Hyde’s Anna is all cheerful practicality and simmering resentment, hiding her deep misgivings behind an increasingly brittle facade.
Louie Whitemore’s set presents a naturalistic cottage kitchen pleasingly cluttered with stacked pans and biscuit tins. In the second half, the scene shifts to the garden where large, hanging frames elegantly suggest doors and windows while allowing glimpses of the house’s interior, inviting us to observe events from a different perspective.