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A slow start to relationship tale

IT'S incredibly dark in "the morning room". Not that there's much to look at. A couple of armchairs, two dictionaries and the decaying ruins of a loveless marriage.

'He' waddles about the place, complaining, cursing and imagining sounds outside. He's convinced himself that it's a cat and so begins to search for the torch.

'She' sits there, sewing socks, examining a bottle of pills and fighting the urge to ignore her irksome husband. This is what life has become for 'He' and 'She' – an elderly couple whose hatred and resentment for one another results in the most deplorable of husband and wife exchanges.

Michael West's Conservatory invites us to sit in on what is probably a night like every other for this miserable pairing of souls. Or, it could be the breaking point (there are one or two ghastly revelations as the evening progresses).

Either way, they have a lot to discuss, 'He' and 'She' ('He' refers to his wife as 'Pussy', but their real names are never revealed).

For a play that relies on little else but its two characters making conversation, it's a long time before anyone says something of note. The crux of the matter is there – we just have to wait it out.

RIDDLES

Stephen Brennan and Deirdre Donnelly are perfectly cast, and both work extremely well with West's articulate, multifaceted language.

Away from the bitter scraps over crosswords, and the near-comical listing of friends and relatives who have died, there are endless clues – riddles, even – of a broken family, a life wasted to alcoholism, infidelity, sickness and a son who has long since passed. Indeed, there's a reason 'She' won't venture into their conservatory.

'He' is an insufferable old man; a cruel and crass individual whose wife admits to having thought about killing him (by leaving him, she adds). Brennan talks the loudest, but it is Donnelly's mostly quiet reflection that leaves a more distressing mark. Eventually, she too explodes.

Granted, the ominous soundtrack feels forced, and director Michael Barker-Caven loses the run of himself, slightly, playing unnecessary tricks with dictionaries. And that last shot is just ridiculous. Still, it's worth sticking out, even when it feels as though we're never going to get anywhere. We do. It just takes a while. HHHII

Running until April 12


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