Thursday 27 June 2019

Hot-button play delivered in slick and enticing package at Bewley's Café Theatre


Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin Until Feb 23

Superb: Aenne Barr and Dermot Magennis play a YA author and her publisher
Superb: Aenne Barr and Dermot Magennis play a YA author and her publisher

Katy Hayes

This is a wonderfully clever piece of writing from English writer Thomas Eccleshare, first staged in 2017. It is innovative in form but at the same time, delivers all the satisfactions of a conventionally plotted page-turner.

The play opens with an email exchange between Harry, a London publisher, and Heather, an author trying to flog her debut YA fantasy book. The book is about a teenage girl, Greta, who has a magic pen. Harry makes an offer on the book that Heather delightedly accepts. The book goes into production.

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Heather, who lives in the English countryside, cannot make it to London for meetings as she is heavily pregnant. The Greta book is a massive success and book two arrives in due course. Heather still cannot make it to London. She has been diagnosed with cancer. Harry doesn't get suspicious, because he doesn't want to be suspicious. The Greta books have turned into quite the cash-cow. It all seems too good to be true.

The play is structured in three sections. The first is the exchange of emails. The second is a meeting between the two main characters. The third is an excerpt from a screenplay based on one of the now fantastically successful books. Though each section delivers a new set of surprises in both narrative and form, the story of the play remains very simple and clear.

Liam Halligan, directing for Pageant Wagon Theatre Company, has a firm grip on the complexities and paces the show perfectly. Aenne Barr and Dermot Magennis both deliver superb performances, full of intensity and versatility. Kieran McBride's set at first appears simple, with mirror fragments on the black walls and basic furniture; but it has that wonderful theatrical visual thrill of fully paying off in the final scene. Denis Clohessy's sound design, highly effective throughout, also reaches a flourishing climax in this section.

The play appears, at one level, a meditation on good and evil; on the duality and co-existence of same inside one individual. This is a recurring and hackneyed theme in much YA fantasy, from CS Lewis to the Star Wars franchise. Much more exciting is the examination of the relationship between a writer's talent and their personal misdeeds. This debate rings loudly in the present moment, where prominent artists are tripping up over bad actions from their past and present. Recent major stories have broken about writers not being all they claim.

This is a hot-button play about the contemporary world, delivered in a slick and enticing theatrical package.

Digging up some fine performances

The Plot

The New Theatre, Dublin Until tonight

Paula Lonergan's play is a curious mixture of ghost story and expressionist exploration of historical social issues.

Lilith (Roseanne Lynch), a young woman who died by suicide in 1891, was cast into an unmarked grave with all the other unruly dead, including sailors, strangers and unbaptised babies. The play centres on a contemporary interview between Lilith and a council official, Edith (Charlotte Rose Keating), as the uneasy ghost tries to make a case for her inclusion in a new official burial plot. Lilith wants a proper headstone that will testify to her having lived.

We get some backstory for Lilith whose unhappy young marriage left her dysfunctional and depressed. The officious Edith is a modern version of biblical Lot's wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back in regret at Sodom. A third character, a narrator/demon, nicely played with puckish overtones by Eoghan Burke, hovers uneasily on the periphery of the action. Aleka Potinga provides haunting cello and voice accompaniment from a score by Mary Barnecutt.

Director Nora Kelly Lester bolsters this theatrical archaeological dig with fine performances. But the core interview has a stilted quality in the writing, and the whole doesn't match the merit of the scattered parts.


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