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A THIRD – Finborough Theatre, London.

A ThirdIn Laura Jacqmin’s new play A Third, we find Paul and Allison, a married couple, up-scale, urban and a little bohemian, facing down the long forever of monogamy. Considering themselves broad minded and liberal, and with adventurous sexual pasts, they don’t see why this should stop them in their quest for satisfaction. So they come up with a plan which should get them the excitement they’re looking for: they’ll invite a third person into their bed, but with enough checks and balances in place to make sure that these dalliances are no strings, no fuss and no risk.

Inevitably, it doesn’t quite work out that way. They recruit two volunteers – Jay, a laidback bank clerk who has answered their ad on Craigslist, and Mariella, a younger woman that Paul picks up at a lesbian night – but over several nights and many more text messages, things prove to be a lot messier in practice than they had planned.

Curious for a play where the characters are all to some extent bisexual, it shakes down on a strict male-female basis. But then despite all the trappings of the present day, it’s noticeable how conventional the reactions are – if this were set in the 1970s and the plot was set in motion by car-keys in a bowl rather than a Craigslist ad, the trajectory would probably not be that different. But that is maybe the point – despite Paul’s nostalgia for genderqueer nights in times gone by, he still feels impelled to tell Jay that “no one gets to f*** my wife but me”, and so conforming to as traditional an idea of masculinity as you could imagine.

A pair of great performances from Asha Reid and Jeremy Legat help to bring out Allison and Paul’s well-drawn complexity. Jay and Mariella on the other hand seem more like useful plot contrivances than actual people. The arrangement Jay is asked to agree to is so constrictive, even degrading, that it seems unclear why he would ever consent to it; that he would then go to extraordinary lengths to pursue such a brittle and uptight character as Allison stretches credulity.

Josh Roche’s production is well-paced and confidently staged and Jacqmin clearly has a good ear for dialogue, even if some of the play seems underwritten, with a tendency towards the plainly declarative. Towards the end though, Allison has a speech about suffering vertigo in the balcony seats at the opera: this is one of the play’s strongest parts, cleverly crystalising themes of temptation and propriety that have been bubbling just below the surface. Moments like these show the power of Jacqmin’s work and make me keen to see what she does in the future.

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Reviewed 28/6/15

By Robbie Lumsden

Sundays, Mondays & Tuesdays, 28th June – 20th July
Finborough Theatre, London, SW10.

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