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Carolyn Duffin’s “No Strings,” which is currently playing at the Surgeons Hall, initially looks like an overly earnest, even flat drama about two people who are being encompassed within a midlife crisis. It is so easy to recognise a midlife crisis when you see it on the television, but presumably much harder when it is creeping up on you. Well, I suppose that it won’t hurt to keep watching this play, I think after a while, as it’s bound to be over before long. Keep watching it is good advice, because “No Strings” gets steadily darker and richer, until it surprises you with an anguish of almost Calvinist intensity. It is a small play, but on its own terms perfect.

You will have been thoroughly prepped for this play by reading recent news stories about the Ashley Madison hack. The otherwise married Jamie (George Drever) is meeting women in a hotel room for “no strings” fun. As you might expect, the audience are not in for fifty minutes of squealing, exuberant lovemaking. Jamie and his new respondee Shona (Duffin) always talk and they can never seem to spit it out. They talk whilst they undress each other in their laborious, torturous way, as if they aren’t really looking for or even thinking about each other’s genitals. Their “no strings” infidelity is, of course, stringier than horseflesh. They want to be saved or redeemed by their ostensibly stringless encounter.

Jamie is the generic love rat, always pleading and with that empty laugh constantly in his voice. His unimpressed wife Louise (Kirstin Northcote) is also good and I wished that she had been given a bit more time on stage. Shona has a lovely, slighty weird Orcadian (?) accent and I think that I first noticed this when I realised how diabolical she is.

Jamie’s comeuppance is smart and unsentimental; the horror rolls on to the stage like a cold draught. At the end of the play Shona is gloating and her whole story suddenly seems like the most tremendous fun. We have been looking for fun in this play since we were first enticed in by its sexy premise, and so we can walk out again gratified, with the relief that you feel when an unpromising encounter has turned out rather better than you had expected.

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