Friday, 20 June 2003

Focussing on the text

Back to the Belgrade Theatre for the opening show in their short but sweet new writing season. Conor McPherson's This Lime Tree Bower is the first offering of the season, a gently brutal piece that is a triple tours des forces by the three actors (Peter Quinn, Dermot Kerrigan and Nick Danan). The theatre space has been transformed from the traditional proscenium stage and stalls to a studio theatre by extending the stage apron-style half way across the auditorium, with additional seating arranged on either side of the stage itself. With minimal staging, and all but no physical or verbal interaction between the actors, there was nowhere for the performers or the text to hide. Separately, they wound us into the substance of their individual and collective lives: the adolescent worship for an undeserving but attractive new school mate; the world weary self-loathing of a lecturer of philosophy; the desperation created by the love and loyalty of a son for his desperate father. As each new character is revealed it becomes clear that the three are closely connected - fifteen year old Joe is brother to twenty year old Frank, and lecturer Ray goes out with their sister Carmel. For Joe and Ray, their thoughts about women are their most defining feature. Joe's sexual yearnings move from the safe abstract to the combined pain and pleasure from catching his schoolmate rape a drunk girl met at the local nightclub; that neither he nor the audience are clear that it is rape until much later adds to Joe's confusion. The memories of his dead mother drift in and out of his consciousness; his admirable sister makes minimal impression. As for Ray, if his cynical mysogynism had been revealed in dialogue, I suspect he would have become a hateful caricature. As it is, the monologue reveals instead a painful self-awareness and disgust, for all his surface cockiness.
Frank has no time for women; either frightened off by a female brush of the hand as a boy, or too encumbered by his fixation on the man who he perceives to have undone his father, the most apparently sensible of the three pursues the most reckless course with the result that he finds that money can indeed bring happiness, or at least freedom from desperation and subservience.
McPherson has built a platform that demands actors of significant substance - this production delivers the full package.

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