Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Friday 13 December 2019

Circling round the drama

Review: The Approach, Project Arts Centre

First rate: Cathy Belton and Derbhle Crotty
First rate: Cathy Belton and Derbhle Crotty

Katy Hayes

Two sisters and a friend negotiate their relationships amidst the shifting sands of truth. This 60-minute play has four scenes set in a café-like place. In the first we meet Cora (Cathy Belton) and Anna (Aisling O'Sullivan), two old friends who don't see so much of each other anymore. They hark back to glory days when they shared a flat in Ranelagh, along with Anna's sister Denise. Anna has not spoken to her sister in a number of years. Denise started a relationship with her ex-partner, Oliver, shortly after Anna had broken up with him. Anna suspects it was going on for a while behind her back.

Relating the story of Mark O'Rowe's new play thus does not describe the work very well. While the play is ostensibly realism, with ordinary women talking about ordinary things, its purpose is to explore the idea of aloneness from an obtuse perspective. Early on we hear of an old schoolmate, Emily, who has committed suicide. This idea hangs over the play like a threat.

In the second scene Cora meets the other sister, Denise (Derbhle Crotty). The conversations are full of incidentals; they talk a lot about boyfriends. Denise talks about her birth experience and her house extension, including problems with the new marble sink. The women occasionally fabricate, and thus the whole concept of truth is undermined.

O'Rowe himself directs with meticulous attention to detail and the three performances are first-rate. O'Sullivan is tough and assertive as Anna, and captures her bewilderment and upset. Crotty's Denise exudes just the right minuscule amount of smug, appropriate to her kitchen extension and baby. Belton brings the battling energy of a diminished person to the role of Cora.

Sinéad McKenna's beautiful design contains an installation of chairs, suspended in dark space. The characters sit at a circular table on a raised circular platform. The ouroboros motif, of a circle endlessly eating itself, is a good visual underpinning of the play's shape. Philip Stewart's sound design lends intensity and an other-worldly sense of dread.

But we never really get to know the characters. When an issue arises that makes it clear that someone is fabricating, there is no confrontation. The women seem to be, if not quite unhappy, then limited in their happiness - but for no revealed reason.

The script has an unsettling quality, as though the writer is chipping away at the grounds underneath it. It plays with temporal sequencing. Technical trickery is always impressive in a script, but it must be a vehicle for drama; in this case it feels like a substitute for it. Finally, there is a sense of these women being trapped in an endless cycle of their lives, which is quite interesting, but very abstract. Existential dread is an intriguing starting point for theatre, but not a hugely satisfying end.

Book it now


Gate, Dublin, Until Mar 24

John Osborne’s play from 1956 changed British theatre irrevocably, blowing the then popular drawing-room comedies off the stage. Rarely produced here, this is a chance to see what all the fuss was about. Directed by Annabelle Comyn.


Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Feb 15  — 17

Political writer and performer Grace Dyas’s new show for THEATREclub features two Magdalen survivors digging for truth in the shadow of recent and historical wrongs. Axis, Ballymun Feb 20 and Mermaid, Bray Feb 22


Town Hall Theatre, Galway, Until Feb 17

Irish playwright Frank McGuinness’s fine play was inspired by the imprisonment of Brian Keenan by Islamic terrorists in 1980s Lebanon. A welcome revival from Decadent Theatre Company.

Stage Whispers...


Druid and the Gaiety Theatre are hosting a major Gathering of Sives tomorrow at 1.30pm. Anyone who has ever played Sive is invited. Just bring along a programme or photo of the show you were in. The original Sive, Margaret Ward, from the very first production by the Listowel Players in 1959, will be there. Also present will be the rising star Gráinne Good (above), who made her professional début in the current production. They will be joined by John B Keane's son Billy Keane, as well as director Garry Hynes.

The role of Sive is an iconic Irish female juvenile lead, and has provided a significant stepping stone in many careers. But stepping stone to what? The lack of decent women's roles in Irish theatre has long been lamented. Brian Friel's play Dancing at Lughnasa, with its "five brave Glenties women", has been single-handedly credited with keeping Irish female performers in mortgage repayments.

But the times they are a-changing. Right now, there are 15 women employed in the Abbey Theatre rehearsing The Unmanageable Sisters by Michel Tremblay in a new version by Deirdre Kinahan which previews at the end of the month. There are three female leads in the Project Arts Centre (see Mark O'Rowe play reviewed above). Last year saw an all-female production of The LadyKillers in the Lyric theatre in Belfast. The production of Sive mentioned above has two women playing the Travellers, parts usually played by men.

Next month sees Boom? by Isobel Mahon, with its five-strong female cast, including Fair City's Claudia Carroll, taking to the stage of the Gaiety. This follows its première in Cornelscourt's Dolmen and a national tour last November. Now the Gaiety is taking a punt on this gang of urban, comic women.

Spare a thought for casting directors. For the first time ever, they haven't got a vast array of "resting" female talent to choose from.

Katy Hayes

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