Sunday 17 December 2017

Lost soul finds his way out of the oven and into the cupboard

Emer O'Kelly

THEATREPROFOUNDLY depressing, eerily convincing, and quite forcibly repellent.

That's Ian McEwan's short story Conversation with a Cupboard Man adapted for the stage and produced by Sickle Moon at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in a bill that varies between lunchtime and evening performances.

The man in question is one of nature's lost and despised souls, reared by an insane and fixated mother who kept him in a bib and high chair until his teens.

He breaks free only when she takes up with a new man, abandoning him to a real world of which he has no experience, and no ability to adapt to.

After a time in a special school, where 'Mr Smith' teaches him the rudiments of literacy and shows him the first kindness he has ever known, he goes on to take a job in a hotel kitchen, where he becomes the butt of the vindictive chef's sadistic inhumanity. After shutting him in the huge oven on the pretext of having to clean it, the chef turns on the heat and leaves him to roast for several hours.

Cupboard Man's revenge is vicious, thorough and almost eerily competent in its understanding of the legal requirements of the "real world".

We meet him after periods in prison, again a compact regulated existence which gives him happy boundaries. But outside those boundaries, he talks to a social worker who has visited him in the attic room, where he closes himself for safety in the cupboard.

There is nothing in the piece bar its almost incredible power to paint a picture of mundane horror, of the nightmares than unroll in the room next door.

And in this production, McEwan's mastery of words is well served by Finbarr Doyle's contained and varied performance.

He is directed by Jeda deBri, and the piece is designed by Aoife Fealy and lit by Eoghan Carrick.

Irish Independent

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