If I felt bleary-eyed after a graveyard shift of almost seven hours watching The Second Woman, I can only imagine how Ruth Wilson must have thought after her 24-hour feat of endurance.
It was a marathon enough for the audience. When I arrived, I was apprehensive. Even as a theatre fanatic, I feared that watching Wilson act out one seven-minute scene about a couple’s break-up 100 times with 100 different co-stars, (most of whom weren’t even actors) would be interminable.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The storyline is simple: Wilson’s character, Virginia, seeks reassurance from her partner, Marty, that, after a fight, he still thinks she is beautiful. She throws her Chinese takeaway noodles at him. The pair dance to the terribly catchy song Taste Of Love by Aura (I’ll be humming it for days).
I can only imagine how Ruth Wilson must have thought after her 24-hour feat of endurance
Wilson finally pays him £20, telling him to leave. Then the next man appears, and so on.
After half an hour, I became so familiar with the scene that even the slightest change was thrillingly perceptible.
Even at 7am, 15 hours into her performance, Wilson found interesting new ways to do the same thing. From how she placed her hands while waiting for her new scene partner to appear, to how she ate her takeaway (I don’t think she’ll ever want to eat noodles again), she was hypnotic. If the audience started to flag, along came a famous face, such as Idris Elba, Strike star Tom Burke (at about 1am), Game Of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen (at about 3.30am) and James Bond’s Ben Whishaw (at 4am).
It was a bit like a Netflix binge. You tell yourself, ‘Oh, just one more’, and soon enough, the sun is rising. Despite the famous co-stars, Wilson, dolled up in a velvety red dress and kitten heels, kept her remarkable composure throughout.
Some men tried to take charge of the scene. One rewrote the script by suggesting he was having an affair with her brother. Occasionally someone refused to say their final line of ‘I love you’ or ‘I never loved you’ in a bid to own the scene. Wilson was having none of it – putting them firmly in their place.
At points it was uncomfortable. One man put his hands on Wilson’s breasts. Another tried a little too hard to kiss her.
But being such a tour de force, Wilson wasn’t afraid to get touchy-feely, either. Especially with Whishaw, who got a pat on the bottom. She rubbed another man’s nipples through his shirt.
The older men, closer in age to 41-year-old Wilson, often came off more arrogant and overbearing than the younger participants. One young lad’s hands shook from stage fright and he kept looking at Wilson for reassurance like a scared schoolboy. Every performance fed off the audience’s reaction, hamming it up if we found a skit particularly amusing. Hysterical, sleep-deprived laughter abounded. Some scenes I never wanted to end.
Even at 7am, 15 hours into her performance, Wilson found interesting new ways to do the same thing
As the night wore on – I was there from 12.40am to 7.20am – and armed with coffee and croissants from the theatre’s 24-hour bar, the audience cheered ever louder to maintain the energy.
EVERY two hours, we waited as Wilson had a 15-minute break to freshen up – and load up on caffeine. She had a self-imposed two-week coffee ban prior to the show so it would have a better impact on the night, and it seems to have worked.
At the end of each two-hour act, her wig was tousled and her tights laddered. But after each break she was recharged and back for more. Any time a co-star suggested they were tired, she shot them a filthy look, much to the crowd’s delight.
By 6.30am she walked more slowly and breathed more deeply – but her performance never tired.
I reluctantly tore myself away after about 25 iterations of the scene, exhausted, dazed and slightly delirious.
After a quick nap, I woke up feeling that Ruth Wilson’s theatrical marathon was one of the most magical productions London has seen in a long time.