Sunday 22 July 2018

Theatre: Tale of the unspoken speaks to the heart

There are two kinds of love, unspoken and manipulated, in this week's productions

John Olohan, Deirdre Monaghan and Paula Greevy-Lee in 'This Old Man' at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf.
John Olohan, Deirdre Monaghan and Paula Greevy-Lee in 'This Old Man' at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf.
Catherine Byrne and Noelle Brown star in ‘Something Unspoken’. Photo: Futoshi Sakauchi.

Emer O'Kelly

The late English comedian Joyce Grenfell had a song beginning, "Stately as a galleon, she sailed across the floor." Tennessee Williams's Miss Cornelia Scott fits that description, and she is caught perfectly by Catherine Byrne in his play Something Unspoken, just as Noelle Brown catches as perfectly Mrs Grace Lancaster, the flower-like widow who suffers the role of her secretary-companion.

The play dates from 1958, with the American Civil Rights movement still in its infancy, and the Daughters of the Confederacy wielding enormous social power in the southern states.

Cornelia Scott is not attending her local AGM of the Daughters. She is fearful that she may not be elected un-opposed as Regent, the office she feels is her God-given right. And as she and Grace sit at home awaiting the outcome of the vote, they are marking another anniversary: 15 years to the day since Grace, newly widowed, came to live with and work for the monstrous Miss Scott.

But we learn in the play's course that Cornelia has one weakness, displayed by the 15 roses that Grace has received to mark the day.

And as Cornelia's social pretensions crumble, the unspoken is nearly spoken in a moment of desperate yearning. Something Unspoken is a delicate, beautifully balanced little piece about love unrewarded and unrequited, and it's given a charming production at Bewley's lunchtime theatre at Powerscourt in Dublin, directed by Maisie Lee in an equally charming design by Andrew Murray. It's costumed by Barbara McCarthy and lit by Colm Maher, and it couldn't be bettered for a summer lunchtime.

* * * * *

"What shall we do with Daddy?" is a question facing families since time immemorial; I have even seen a production of King Lear where the director decided that that question was the thrust of the play. Gerard Lee is less ambitious with his play This Old Man, a Cadence production at the Viking Theatre in Clontarf in Dublin: the old man in this case is Eamonn O'Leary, curmudgeonly, scruffy, crude, cantankerous, and living in a kingdom that comprises merely a modest suburban semi-detached house.

But even that is getting too much for him, as his two daughters realise. But they have different attitudes: Carol's husband is in financial difficulty and so is her own little business. Sister Denise, an overworked nurse worried about her own kids' problems, just wants Dad to be safe and comfortable, so she adds daily visits to her schedule. But Carol wants the house sold so she can get her hands on her half of the estate.

With John Olohan giving a skilled, subtle performance as Eamonn, slowly fading from combative wickedness into bewildered mental misplacement, Lee has a strong structure in place. The problem is that neither Deirdre Monaghan as Carol nor Paula Greevy-Lee as Denise is particularly convincing, the former in particular making it impossible to believe in her as ever having been a thrusting, competitive businesswoman.

Admittedly, Lee's usually sure hand with dialogue lets both women down in the scene where they put their separate cards on the table; the text becomes convoluted and more like a rather superficial treatise on capitalism versus socialism than a cat-fight between two overwrought sisters who don't like each other very much. But that said, the play as a whole works very well, and Olohan is a pleasure to watch in the role of Eamonn.

Direction is by Ann Russell in a set by Andy Murray, and with (again, slightly unconvincing) costumes by Saoirse Lynch.

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