ELLIE OGILVIE can’t fault this play, but can’t find anything special about it either.

Chloe Mashiter Justin Wells laura batey Pembroke New Cellars

Pembroke New Cellars, 28th February – 3rd March, 7pm, £5

Directed by Chloe Mashiter

[rating: 3/5]

Written and directed by Chloe Mashiter, Unconditional is a courageous attempt to explore a nightmare no mother ever expects to face.

The script had its moments of brilliance, with occasional depth to it and touches of comic relief. However, given the emotional complexity of Mashiter’s chosen subject, the pace of the script was miscalculated and seemed to lack dramatic awareness. At times, the couple’s discussion-cum-argument seemed to drag, whilst elsewhere the subject of their conversation changed rather too quickly. Just as the play descend into the deep, cutting conversation we were hungry for, the depth would be suddenly undercut, the characters distracted by a sudden shift to mundane things. This was unrealistic, not to mention irritating.

There were moments of talent displayed by the two-handed cast of Justin Wells and Laura Batey. Wells played the dedicated husband, Daniel, with conviction. Though his performance suffered at moments of stunted delivery, it was engaging overall. His flashes of anger were convincing, interspersed along the smooth transition he made from a caring, slightly patronising husband to an overwhelmed, despairing father.

Batey showed glimpses of compelling emotion in her performance as Sarah, particularly during the opening scene and in a heated outburst towards the end. Ultimately, however, her performance was less able than that of her partner. During the central argument around which the play is based, Batey lacked the credibility of a woman in deep crisis. It was difficult as well to decide whether her awkward and uncomfortable body language was a conscious decision. Given the benefit of the doubt, however, it suited the desperation and confusion of a mother in Sarah’s situation well.

Mashiter’s direction found most strength in the transition the play underwent. The subtle but effective contrast in the couple’s physicality was subtle and effective, making space – usually the New Cellar’s biggest hindrance – a strength.

The New Cellars were effectively transformed into a couple’s front living room with an abundance of sofas which served as seating for the audience. The actors also made efficient use of the small space, exploiting the New Cellar’s dimensions and engaging with the audience on an intimate level. The lighting was simple but spot-on, with broody shadows setting the tone as this couple’s much longed-for night in alone descends into a revelation that will change their lives forever.

Ultimately, Mashiter’s idea is an interesting one, and it is disappointing that it does not go much beyond this. Whilst none of the elements – writing, performance, direction, design – were lacking, we were ultimately left wanting more.