Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Friday 19 September 2014

Theatre notice: Awkward separation in a timewarp

Emer O’Kelly

Published 07/06/2014 | 01:03

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Tale of bitterness: David Murray as Stephen and Susan Stanley as Molly in “The Separation” at Project

A man and a woman come into an untidy sitting room, soaked to the skin from a rainstorm.

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They strip: he lends her clothes; take note: the T-shirt is for the Bryan Adams tour of 1991, and she howls with laughter at how out of date it is. While she changes, he takes a long smell of the contents of the whiskey bottle.  It’s the 1990s, and he has a drink problem. Scene-setting is one thing, hammering nails in is another.

What develops is a somewhat incoherent play about the bitterness of separation and the damage it can do. Richard Molloy, the author of The Separation has chosen for no discernible reason to set the play in the year 1995, with the divorce referendum  looming in Ireland, a subject  the characters keep coming back to.

Stephen is a journalist in Dublin, about to get together (he hopes) with  Molly, the colleague with whom he had a one-night stand six months earlier, shortly before, as it happens, the break-up with his wife. They’re the soaked pair. 

Wife Marion bursts in, frantic because schoolgirl daughter has flounced out during a row. Huge parental row, after which Stephen’s biggest concern  seems to be assuring Molly that he has never told anyone of his separation because he’s ashamed of being judged. Huh? After a one-night stand...one of many, it emerges?

Daughter Gerty arrives, after a cider party which seems to have been triggered because one of the nuns at school told her that her mother is going to hell for having left her husband.  And all subsequent hell breaks loose because Marion wants to move to Cork with her new boyfriend, and also plans on filing for divorce ...if and when the referendum is passed.

Molloy has created the warring trio as having not a single redeeming feature between them. They’re selfish and self-seeking, and  the married couple are  viciously uncaring parents.

But time and Ireland have moved on, and there seems no reason for  the action to be set in a time-warp. In addition, Molloy’s control of dialogue is less than convincing, with arch conversations  alternating with bouts of ranting unsustainable  in any kind of credible scenario.

Further, Simon Evans’ direction makes for awkward sight-lines much of the time, while only David Murray as the unpleasant Stephen manages to rise above  the various challenges of script and setting. Carrie Crowley is the virago-ish Marion, Roxanna Nic Liam is a somewhat unconvincing young Gerty, (an unpleasant 15 going on 35); and Susan Stanley is the unsuitably twee paramour Molly. Co-produced by Project and Pixilated Plays at the Cube in Project.

Zelda Fitzgerald lived her life in the shadow of her world-famous husband, F.Scott  Fitzgerald. She too was a writer, and her inspiration came from the same source as his, their married life as icons of the Jazz Age.  Scott said his wife had “exaggerated” ambition; she called it “thwarted” ambition. Whichever it was, Zelda, who began life as what would nowadays be called a “wild child” spent the last 10 years of her life in an institution, diagnosed as a schizophrenic.

She had serially tried to be a painter and a dancer as well as a writer. But always Scott was there to decry her as he sank further into alcoholism and she tried frantically to preserve the glamour of their early years together, drinking and dancing their way through the great hotels of Europe.

Eddie Naughton has written an illuminating play,  Zelda, on her troubled life, the text drawn from much of her own writing; the intelligence, the pain, and the desperation  of the time and the people with whom she and Scott surrounded themselves are all there.  The play, a Fast Intent production at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan’s bar on Eden Quay in Dublin, also manages to encompass the Fitzgeralds’ fraught relationship with Hemingway (a “pansy” in Zelda’s opinion, and probably Scott’s lover as well: the macho Hemingway, not surprisingly, hated her.)

Sharon Coade plays Zelda with heart- wrenching conviction in a performance filled with variety, moving smoothly from pathos to sad spite and piteous insecurity.

She is directed by Sarah Finlay in a set by Aoife Fealy, beautifully lit by Eoghan Carrick. 

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