Tuesday 18 June 2019

Theatre: Yearning and lost, they seek love in a not so cold climate

Before Monsters Were Made, at the Project,
Before Monsters Were Made, at the Project,
Karl Shiels and Gemma Doorly in Being Norwegian

Emer O'Kelly

Scottish playwright David Greig's The Events will come to Dublin as part of the Theatre Festival later this year. It's based on the shattering Anders Breivik mass slaughter of young people at an island camp in Norway a few years ago, and was hailed as a triumph of theatre in 2013.

But Greig sees another side of Norway as well: he uses the country as an allegory for human connection in his gentle little comedy Being Norwegian, currently playing at Bewleys Lunchtime Theatre at Powerscourt Centre in Dublin. It's a co-production with Theatre Upstairs and The Cup Company, and it's pure joy.

Lisa has picked up Sean in a pub in Edinburgh. They've come back to his chaotic flat, and she's making all the running, her excuse being that she's Norwegian, although she's long lost her accent. Attitudes there are open, you see, and she doesn't understand the hang-ups of Scots men. And Sean has more hang-ups than most, which are a hangover from his broken marriage and worries about his small son.

But if Norway has a cold climate, it has a warm approach to life, according to the practical and lovely Lisa, and she has no intention of losing love just because the climate's different in Edinburgh. Norway can be the name for your head and your heart, as the messed-up sceptical Sean discovers.

Karl Shiels and Gemma Doorly play the couple, yearning and lost in their separate ways, and they're a delight to watch, warming the cockles of the heart on a cold and wet Wednesday lunchtime.

Being Norwegian is directed by Clodagh Mooney Duggan with set and lighting by Laura Honan.

I came out of Ross Dungan's Before Monsters Were Made unable to make head or tail of it. So I read the blurb: it's a thriller about love, lies and loyalty set in 1960s Ireland, apparently. And David, the central character, is forced to re-visit old memories. No sign of period. No sign of thriller. No sign of anyone re-visiting old memories. Just a lot of rather jumbled scenes without the impact of any real emotion of any kind.

Least of all is there emotion or any credible behaviour among the protagonists when the ten-year-old daughter of the main couple goes missing. And she's not the first. Actually, I'm not sure how many little girls have already disappeared in weird circumstances, because the writing lacks clarity to an alarming degree.

Well, would any parent stand around arguing about past history on discovering that a small child has been found safe but half-drowned, and is in hospital after being missing for hours? Would they argue about which car to take to the hospital?

Dungan has clearly worked hard on his piece, but it's badly in need of a dramaturg/editor who would in the first instance have insisted that it be cut drastically. Then there would be the requirement to give the characters some depth, as well as some signifier of the hostility which they bear each other. Nor does the succession of plot twists which signal the end seem to add anything other than a final (unfortunately unsuccessful) throw at achieving the monicker "thriller."

All in all, despite a fairly competent performance from Peter Coonan as the central character, and good set design from Zia Holly, there's a sense that without the sterling work of that always splendid actor Lorcan Cranitch as the deus ex machina, the whole thing would sink entirely leadenly. (And the notion of Coonan and Cranitch being son and father looks chronologically laughable.)

There's also fairly disastrous vocal projection pretty nearly all round, particularly from Janice Byrne as an implausible trophy wife with a dark secret.

It's a 15th Oak production directed by Ben Kidd at Project in Dublin.

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