Simply put, A Tender Thing is Romeo and Juliet 50 years on. Using text from that play, as well as other Shakespeare plays and the sonnets, Ben Power shows them in their sixties, still in love, facing up to tragedy.
I knew very little about it (I like to go unaware to new plays, it’s such a joy not to know the ending, unlike Shakespeare). It turned out to be the most emotionally affecting thing I’ve seen in the theatre this year. If you’d told me I’d be weeping about two sixty-somethings being romantic and adorable and tragic I’d - well, actually, I’d not be too surprised, but I still didn’t expect the degree to which it would hit me. The whole production was beautifully, done - sound, lighting, music, set design.
I don’t know Romeo and Juliet well enough to recognise all the lines (it’s not one of my favourites by a country mile) or indeed Shakespeare in general. Which was good, because it meant it felt like a coherent play, without any famous lines to jolt one out of it. The only bit I recognised was when Romeo came out with “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds” at which point I lost it completely. SHAKESPEARE FEELS I tell you.
The acting was excellent from both - Hunter is a terrific physical actor, which was crucial in the latter part. Completely convincing. She also had a lovely girlish quality about her. And you really believed that these two had been together for decades. They were completely adorable. McCabe, well, I confess, he was the reason I got a ticket. He’s one of those actors that crops up in small roles on telly or film (Persuasion, Master and Commander, Wallander, lots of other things) where - however good he is - you never really get to see his range. I fell in love with him after seeing at the RSC him way back in - oh god - 1993 as a glorious Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale and as Kit Marlowe in The School of Night. I mean - Kit Marlowe.Swoon. And a terrifically toady Iago as well, later. Shame on me for losing track of him, because dear lord, seeing him on stage again was overwhelming.
He’s one of those few actors that manages to reach another level when it comes to Shakespeare. There are plenty of great actors who can do Shakespeare, still plenty more excellent verse speakers, but it’s quite rare to watch someone and really feel that they are not only saying the words for the first time, but bringing such a clarity to the thought behind them that it’s like hearing them speak modern english. McCabe is one of these actors, and I’d forgotten, until I saw this. What a gift.