Sunday 21 October 2018

Silvertongued devil tries to stir things up

  • Porcelain, Peacock Theatre

  • Peep, Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, Powerscourt

Lola Petticrew (seated) and Helen Norton in Margaret Perry's Porcelain on the Peacock Stage at the Abbey
Lola Petticrew (seated) and Helen Norton in Margaret Perry's Porcelain on the Peacock Stage at the Abbey
Alexandra Conlon and Emily Fox in 'Peep' by Jodi Gray which plays at Bewleys Cafe Theatre @ Powerscourt until March 1

An obsession with comparisons and contrasts doesn't come off, says Emer O'Kelly

Maybe the key is in the title; it certainly isn't anywhere else. Margaret Perry's Porcelain takes two stories (sort of) and intertwines them/contrasts them/compares them. It's not clear which option the play is concentrating on; so the observer has to extrapolate: porcelain is a fragile element, so maybe Perry's play is about the fragility of the female condition?

Bridgie Cleary suffered a Dark Ages fate in rural Ireland in the 1890s: hideously, she was burned to death (slowly) over a fire in her own kitchen, by her husband and their neighbours. Michael Cleary suspected she was a changeling, and the changeling's death would restore his wife to him. Modern assessments imply that because Bridgie owned a sewing machine, and worked as a dressmaker, looming financial independence made her dangerous/mysterious. (Nobody seems interested in pointing out the role of "spirituality", the modern intellectual coward's term for religion, has always played in stoking superstition.)

In Perry's play, Bridget goes for walks, and does a lot of staring into space, to the increasing outrage of her husband.

Alongside this, Hat, a young woman of today who grew up close to where Bridget Cleary was sacrificed, discovers she is pregnant by Bill, her nice London-based boyfriend, so they decide to move in together. Cue increasing depression and paranoia in Hat, who, post-partum, "gives" her baby to her friend Sarah, encouraged by a rather solid spirit called Silvertongue who can assume various shapes and offers a Faustian pact - Hat can be anyone or anything she pleases, provided Silvertongue is allowed to have the baby. And nice Bill is understandably outraged and devastated.

Twenty-four hours after leaving the theatre, I still don't know what the hell it was about: the only "moral" that seems possible is that you're truly grown-up only when you finally realise that everything comes at a cost; but such adult realisations aren't fashionable in our world where rights are expected to trump responsibilities five ways from Sunday.

On the plus side, Perry's dialogue is never less than entertaining, and the performances are sure-footed throughout, from Lola Pettigrew as Hat, Helen Norton as Silvertongue, and particularly from Keith McErlean as Michael Cleary and Bamshad Abedi-Amin as Bill.

Cathal Cleary's direction is rather scattered, and one can't help feeling that he too was bewildered by the text presented to him. It's designed by Cecile Tremolieres and lit by Paul Keogan.

Porcelain is an Abbey Theatre commission, playing at the Peacock.

*******

A black comedy that is genuinely creepy is a rarity. But Jodi Gray's Peep manages to spook the living daylights out of you, because wild though its premise is, it actually seems possible… and not even in an alternative universe. Caitlin and May sit in an untidy flat; it emerges that Caitlin is the tenant, May a kind of interloper.

They're there because the flat's living room window overlooks another living room window where the curtains are never drawn: it belongs to the unnamed man who has "had" them both, and is fully occupied having lots of other women on a speedy conveyor belt. And Caitlin and May are busy watching the antics: it's (it seems) suitable revenge for having discovered that Our Hero video-ed them both on the job.

Peeping can work both ways, and their revenge is to waylay their successors and co-opt them as watchers also.

And, by the way, they can't stand each other despite their spooky pact, and there's the rub.

Of course, a lot of the action is wildly improbable, but you find yourself almost believing it right up to and through the denouement, perhaps because no amount of feminist solidarity can change the adage that hell hath no fury, etc.

It's enthusiastically and gruesomely hilarious as played by Alexandra Conlon (Caitlin) and Emily Fox (May), directed with a perfect level of hysterical control by Gavin Kostick and designed by Ursula McGinn, with light and sound by John Gunning.

Peep is at Bewley's lunchtime at Powerscourt in Dublin - though you need a long lunch: it runs until 2.20pm-ish.

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