Monday 18 December 2017

Theatre: The Yalta Game hides a viper of tragedy

* The Yalta Game, Gate Theatre
* Dave at Large Civic Theatre Tallaght

The late Brian Friel in the Gaiety stalls in 2010. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The late Brian Friel in the Gaiety stalls in 2010. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Emer O'Kelly

Friel's lugubrious view of passion still asks questions about love.

Brian FRIEL'S The Yalta Game is not so much an adaptation of Chekhov's The Lady with the Dog as his version of it. Its conclusion is more lugubrious than the original. Both ask the question: can passion survive deceit? Indeed, can passion survive? In The Yalta Game, the practised seducer is trapped in his own net; but even as he surrenders to what is effectively his first experience of love in its complex entirety, he knows that the promise to love forever will bring its own destruction.

Dmitri Gurov regards love as a pleasant pastime, linked to his solitary holidays in Yalta, his wife and family safely in another town. He is adept in making conquests, and Anna Sergeyevna, the lady with the little dog, holidaying without her husband, is intended to be merely another in a long line.

But this time the memory of passion is not so easily dismissed, and lingers when the interlude is over. Anna also becomes obsessed with imaginings of how they will meet again, even as she visits her sick husband in hospital. Until, that is, the lovers do meet again.

Chekhov's short story leaves the resultant affaire unresolved. Friel gives it an ironic inevitability: Anna is fierce in her belief in eternal love; Dmitri, scorched in the fire of experience, knows that eternity is finite in affairs of the heart. And already the viper of tragedy is nestling between them.

The new production of the short piece in Michael Colgan's farewell programme at the Gate Theatre has a great deal of delicacy and finesse going for it. But the disparity of age between Dmitri and Anna is mirrored in the disparity of experience between Declan Conlon and Sophie Robinson: pert and tormentedly charming though she makes Anna, there is an element of painting by numbers in her performance when compared with Conlon's world- weary subtlety as Dmitri, a man attempting to chart his way through waters he never expected to encounter.

David Grindley directs in a set designed by Francis O'Connor and lit by Jason Taylor. The exquisite costume design which carries the visual impact and sense of the piece is by Joan O'Clery.


THE late Northern Irish comedian Frank Carson had a catchline, "It's the way that I tell 'em" which was supposed to reduce people to hysterics. But it's a truism: for a comic, it's all in the telling. And if the late Dave Allen was a genius of humour (which I certainly believe he was) a lot of it was in his timing.

Sadly, his timing is bleakly absent in Brian McAvera's "play" Dave at Large at the Civic Theatre in Tallaght. Nor is it a play.

It's a two hour, slow-moving stand-up act in which three actors (Bryan Murray, Michael Bates and Tara Breathnach) talk about the comic in his own persona. Only it's set "in the future" (you wouldn't know that; but the author . . . at least, I think it was the author . . . appears onstage beforehand to tell the audience so.)

Only Murray of the three actors has anything approaching Allen's satiric impact, and then only in flashes. For the rest, there are plodding recitations of some of what in Allen's hands were superb witticisms. There are also drearily scripted versions of what in the original were sublimely funny visual gags.

Nor does one learn anything about the person or circumstances of the legendary Dave himself, other than the fact that he was from Dublin, his father was a journalist, and his brother killed himself.

There's also a pointless "contemporary" sequence of Allen who died in 2005, apparently alive today (?) talking about recent scandals in the Catholic Church. It's brushed aside on the grounds, that you "couldn't make a joke of it." Allen's genius was that if he were alive, he WOULD make a joke of it, and the joke would bring it home even more forcibly.

This unfunny, laborious piece ends with the three versions of the comedian fudging about the possible existence of God.

Dave Allen may have always been gracious in his sign-off ("May your God go with you"), but he was a self-confessed atheist. I was reminded of the late Siobhan McKenna, a fine actor, but not famed for her intellectualism, who belligerently denied that George Bernard Shaw was an atheist: how could he be, when he loved Ireland? she asked.

Dave At Large, whether in heaven or hell, is a Directions Out production directed by the author and Joe Devlin.

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