Alex and Clare, are a couple of young professionals who have taken their first step onto the property ladder but before long their bright future is scuppered by a seemingly minor confrontation outside their new abode that marks the beginning of Alex's descent into lunacy. And the, at times, oppressively hot attic room of the Soho Theatre is the ideal location for Matt Hartley's latest play, Microcosm. The intimate space is perfect for complimenting the undercurrent of claustrophobia and the corrugated plastic walls of the flat are symbolic of the distorted view of the outside that we share with our main protagonist, Alex.
Microcosm is primarily focused on our anti-hero Alex, whose steady capitulation is not dissimilar to a modern day Othello. And indeed the Policeman, played by Christopher Brandon, serves as a kind of unknowing, kind hearted, Iago whose lack of constructive advice only serves to fan the flames of Alex's mania. It's an intriguing and tragic tale of Alex's struggles with his own neuroses and his diminished sense of masculinity as he feels unable to protect his girlfriend or his home.
Alex spirals into Rear Window levels of paranoia and the gradual escalation of suspense and paranoia is more than a little Hitchcockian. There's also shades of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love as we as an audience are never quite sure how much faith should be placed in the increasingly erratic claims of our main character. Philip McGinley as Alex is excellent in his portrayal of his character's steady devolvement from confident everyman to a maniacal voyeur whose anxiousness becomes all encompassing and push him down a path of no return.
Most of the laughs that are littered throughout the beginning of the play come via the overbearing Tom Cruise obsessed neighbour, Philip, played by John Lightbody. There is a lingering frustration that this character isn't explored quite as thoroughly as you'd hope. His references to his never seen wife, his unnerving interest in Alex and his tendency to rattle off into right wing diatribes when confronted with the youths, make him a compelling character but one that we never quite get to know. However, Jenny Rainsford in the role of Clare is measured and believable as the increasingly frustrated voice of reason in the face of her boyfriends disproportionate reactions.
As you may have inferred, the title suggests that this situation is indicative of wider social issues within Britain and indeed it is a recognisable fear of the youth that Hartley taps into. But rather than spoon feed any particular moral agenda, Hartley instead seeks to present us with a disconcerting grey morality in which no conclusions are easily drawn. Microcosm is an intelligent and considered piece of theatre that succeeds in its aim to turn the mirror back on us and make us ask questions of our own prejudices and insecurities.