The idea of The Approach is simple enough: three women take part in three different conversations over a period of a number of years, though only ever with two of them in attendance. The subjects of their chatter are mundane and commonplace, yet personally all-important – current relationships, past relationships, dietary foibles, friends, enemies, those no longer with us and the “good old days”.
But like the cryptic crossword which resurfaces at several points in the play, the real interest lies in what is not being said: the hinted at, the unknown, the lurking-just-beneath-the-surface. It’s in these unspoken lines and offstage events that the answers to this conundrum lie, as the three characters struggle to stay afloat in the tumultuous sea of their lives.
The sparse set and austere sense of direction pares back the whole theatrical experience, forcing the audience to focus intently on each word spoken, how it’s delivered and by whom. As the characters enter and depart on this coffee house carousel of tête-à-têtes, we gradually uncover more of the tragedy and loneliness lying behind each of their personas, even as they obey the social cues and recite the niceties designed to obscure them.
Each of the actresses gives an assured and highly believable performance, aided by the natural and unpolished nature of the dialogue. This is only compromised by the high pace of its delivery, especially in the first act, as the condensed nature of the Fringe has forced the play into a runtime 10 minutes shorter than normal. This alacrity does detract from the believability of the conversation at the outset, but things improve as the play progresses and the actresses settle into their rhythms.
It’s this acting accomplishment which compels most about The Approach, and though the brainteasing nature of the play does pique the interest as the revelations fall into place like pieces of a jigsaw, the final image is a slightly underwhelming one. It’s clever, for sure, but it’s far more human than intellectual.
At the play’s climax, there’s less of a Eureka moment and more of a reaffirmation of the importance of human contact: of listening to one another, of not hiding our true feelings and of holding on to those dearest to us. If we don’t, the most important things might never be said – or, more importantly, not heard – until it’s too late.