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An extraordinary affair

IF Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing (at the Gate) is about acceptance of the tribulations of love, then Marina Carr has given us the other side of the coin in Marble, her new play at the Abbey Theatre.

It's an extraordinary examination of obsessive love, full of verbal explosions that concurrently make the blood run cold and yet are frighteningly recognisable as emotional possibilities.

The play is a departure for Carr, being far more naturalistic in its setting and with its characters more modish than heretofore. Art and Ben work for the same company, their lives controlled by board meetings and high-level presentations.

They have been friends since childhood, and both have stay-at-home, beautiful, lazily self-indulgent wives. Then Art idly tells Ben that he has dreamed of his friend's wife as a blonde, wildly fulfilling sexual partner in a room lined with marble and decorated with marble statues. Disturbed, Ben then finds that his wife Catherine has had a similar dream of Art.

Without meeting, the dreamers become obsessive, their fantasies shared through the conduit of Ben, who wants to shut out his wife's fantasies, but is increasingly obsessed in his turn with hearing of Art's wild imaginings.

Love becomes an issue rather than an experience, an object of unattainable desire that must be suppressed and terminated, something beyond themselves that forces both couples to face its banality in the daily world.

When Catherine finally confronts her dream lover, she tells him, "I've spent years cutting bits of myself off. With you I could retrieve them."

To die of an empty heart must surely be a crime, she now believes, as she and the terrified Art recognise that love as we usually know it is "an awful repetition of nights and days and days and nights", an unreal reality that becomes horribly clear when Art's wife Anne tells him purringly of his love-making to her the previous night, only to find that he can't remember it.

Marina Carr has written an extraordinary play that lures us in with a promise of the recognisable only to drag us screaming into the soaring, magnificent possibilities of love and the destruction that it wreaks in the hearts of those who yield to it when the marble crushes them.

And it is given a transcendent production at the Abbey by director Jeremy Herrin in a magnificent design by Robert Innes Hopkins lit by Paul Keogan. The performances are virtually faultless throughout, from Stuart McQuarrie and Aisling O'Sullivan as the dreaming lovers Art and Catherine, and Derbhle Crotty and Peter Hanly as the ultimately helpless Ben and Anne.

Marble is a ground-breaking contemporary play, and not to be missed.

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EVERY time I see a production of a Willy Russell play, it strikes me anew what an appalling snob he is. If a playwright who was born middle class were to sneer so obviously at the working class, he'd be done for discrimination. But Russell gets away with expecting us to laugh at the absolutely hilarious notion that the working classes can stand up and speak, sometimes both at the same time. And far from it being hilarious, it really is quite tedious.

Ronan Wilmot at the New Theatre in Essex Street has updated the Seventies Russell play Stags and Hens to the Eighties and set it in Dublin instead of Liverpool, and as far as that goes, it works reasonably well if you ignore the fact that in the Eighties, Irish men and women weren't anything as sexually liberated (ie: grossly promiscuous) as their Liverpudlian counterparts.

The play is set in the lavatories of a run down disco where Linda is having her hen-night, only to find that groom-to-be Dave is also having his stag night there.

Feckin' hysterical, wha'?

Everybody gets blind drunk, there's a lot of talk about having it off, and some sexual ambivalence (for trendiness?) when Eddy, the boss of the local footie club, gets very belligerent about the notion of his "lads" being threatened with heterosexual fulfilment and/or being edged out by a rival.

Linda doesn't really want to marry Dave; but can't be bothered to do anything else. And after a brief couple of clinches with a returned old flame, she settles for a dreary future. And they all go home. In other words, it's as numbing as such evenings are in real life. Nor are the performances (particularly from the men) such as to lift the dreariness. Indeed, Aoife Coghlan, Blayne Kelly, Dylan McDonough and Robert Harrington defy the Trades Description Act of the word "acting".

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PEOPLE meeting in the waiting room between death and the afterlife is a common theme. It works best when there is a light touch in the writing, and Pauline Shanahan manages this in Positive Dead People at Bewley's Lunchtime Theatre in Dublin.

Mo and Milly both died on their wedding days: Mo, a doctor, choked to death on a salmon bone at the wedding lunch; Milly, a chef, collapsed and died from an aneurism as she left the church. And they're both a bit pissed off, as they arrive in the hereafter with nothing but their bouquets, and inexplicably, a copy of Great Expectations.

The piece has quite a lot of charm, wit, and wistfulness. That's really all that can be said. It's well directed by Paul Meade, and well played by Clodagh O'Donoghue as Mo and the author as Milly. And it's well worth a lunch visit.


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