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Opener / Andrew Tuck

Jake Gyllenhaal made me cry

Just beyond these walls, the streets are full of tourists pushing through the soupy New York heat. There’s a woman dressed as Minnie Mouse who has to pull up her fluffy rodent head so that she can catch her breath; there are a pair of mounted policemen who are trying to ignore the endless procession of passers-by who are taking pictures of them and their meaty-buttocked steeds.But here, here in the Hudson Theatre, here in the muddle of Times Square and the flashing vulgarity of Broadway – here it is silent. That strange silence that happens in a theatre when, somehow, you never feel more alone and never more connected.New York, this week. Three days off, staying at the Crosby Street Hotel. Three days of trying to forget that the pound has tanked and that your favourite cheap haunts are no longer so cheap. And three days seeing as many galleries and performances as you can squeeze in around the daily email regime.On my final day in the city it’s a matinee performance of Sea Wall / A Life. Two monologues written by Simon Stephens and Nick Payne, delivered by Tom Sturridge and Jake Gyllenhaal. But look, if you are after a theatre review stop reading now; that’s not my forte. This is about something else.However, first I need to reveal something about both monologues. In Sea Wall Sturridge is Alex, a father who talks about his young daughter and how much he loves her. There’s a point, however, where you guess that something terrible has happened. It has: she died, just a few weeks ago, in a freak accident while on a family holiday.Then Gyllenhaal is Abe, who offers the story of his daughter’s birth and his father’s death; incidents that seem to have happened moments apart. It’s raw and it’s funny.Each monologue is delivered with a naturalism that makes you believe that both men are simply recounting real-life events. They break the fourth wall and acknowledge the audience; they see you. It feels very un-acted. And while they are two different pieces by two different writers, there are links and overlaps, and a common thread: life and loss.A good playwright is like a clairvoyant. They can fashion something that is big and broad but also talk in a way that – to you – feels sharp and personal. With some playwrights it’s as if they knew that you were coming to the theatre today and have included a few lines just to wrap a tendril around your emotions.Of course, these are two great actors. And, yes, the writing, the production and the set all conspire to make something special. But there is something else at work. That link is being made: people are seeing their lives up on stage. That’s why, in the shadows around me, people are smudging away fat tears. That’s why as Alex talks about a dead child, I think of my parents coping with a son killed at 10. And as Abe recounts the final moments of his father’s life, I think of my dad’s last day.I don’t get it when people say that the theatre’s not for them. We are sitting in a room, feet away from Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge and, for what really is a few dollars, they are telling us stories; telling us our stories. This is a rare kind of magic. But be warned: Jake Gyllenhaal can make you cry.

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