No Romance | Peacock Theatre
Words: Caomhan Keane - Senior Theatre Writer
The Peacock Theatre
Director Wayne Jordan
Writer Nancy Harris
Cast Conor Mullen, Daire Cassidy, Janet Moran, Stella McCusker, Stephen
Brennan, Tina Kellegher and Natalie Radmall-Quirke
"When did heartache get so tepid" asks one of the characters in Nancy Harris' new play No Romance, her first to be staged in the country of her birth. The same could be asked of our theatre. For while this is a very simple, very human piece of writing, which raises issues as diverse as body-consciousness, erotic blogging and fetishism- it never really tackles any of the above. It is too myopic in its construction and production and never pushes the audience out of it's comfort zone.
Death, desperation and destitution haunt each of these three mini plays that are tentatively strung together by an erotic blog titled the Story of C. It provides the inspiration for a "tasteful" photoshoot between old school friends Laura(Janet Moran) and Gail (Natalie Radmall- Quirke); is one of the many ways Carmel(Tina Kellegher) feels her husband Joe(Stephen Brennan) has betrayed her online while Peg(Stella McCusker) uses it to recapture the youth she wasted on an abusive, closeted husband.
Through these bruised, broken and brittle characters Harris ponders the effect giving your heart to another has on your identity. It wonders how the creation of a cyberself can redress or distress this balance and slices through the sensual front of l'amour going straight to the economic cost of enchantment. It espouses the importance of a "rich interior life" yet acknowledges that the wrong kind of interior life "can be a prison of its own making", warning how the anonymity of the web and the isolation of ones mind can be a bolthole for those on the lam from a painful present.
It is a play rich with ideas, yet despite dealing with matters that are both of this time and everyday, Harris is short on insight. How new modes of communication are affecting relationships is hinted at, as is the effect of shifting fiscal fortunes, yet what does this production tell us about the way we love today? We have a Lesbian on the stage at the national theatre for the first time in donkeys years (if ever) yet you’d never know there was any differing difficulties facing a same sex relationship and a different sex one; a middle aged man’s “erotic affinity for DIY materials” is a subject of ridicule with no serious consideration given to how or why he thought it would help him reassert his masculinity. While the emotional resonance of the confessional from the nursing home bound Peg is undermined by a gimmicky twist.
While weak on point, Harris is strong on character and when fully finnesed in performance her creations can make you feel for, if not think about, the human condition. Moran nails the fragile yet fractious nature of her character, commiting to Laura’s largesse but pulling back just enough to alert us to the fact that something might be wrong. Brennan injects his part with the right amounts of pietey and ruin to make Joe seem pitiable while in the performance of the night McCusker captures the despair of a woman being weaned of her treasured independence without ever making her seem weak or irritable.
But not everybody within the cast has the acumen to handle the shifts within the writing and Natalie Radmall-Quirke and Tina Kellegher in particular seem unsure as to what their objectives are. Wayne Jordan is an asthetic director and his use of sound(Carl Kennedy) and set(Paul Keogan) establish the mood of each segment before nary a word has been spoken. But unlike his previous productions at the national theatre(Christ Deliver Us, The Plough and the Stars) this is a text heavy, character driven piece that can't be tarted up with his trademark balletic direction
Radmall- Quirke, a visually compelling performer, has clearly created an internal existence for Gail, grief etched in her eyes. But her character's distraction becomes her sole objective to the point that you never see her play anything else on stage. She struggles to connect the emotion she has created for the character with the words put down on the page and relies on pointed mannerisms to bridge the gap.
Kellegher, meanwhile, brings no sensuality to Carmel playing her uncontained sense of betrayal for laughs and fudging her key moment, when she reveals her desire for a tryst with a Nigerian taxi driver. You never get a sense that this is a woman who longs for anything other than one upping her husband with her smarts so lacking is the performance in understanding, desire or genuine fury.
In the end this is too comfortable a shoe for The Abbey Theatre to deliver the swift kick up the arse it’s audience requires, especially on the thorny issue of how the other half loves. A play about identity it lacks any discernable feature or intention to warrant much fanfare, flitting over too may ideas to do any of them justice. We may have a new generation of writers breaking through but when are any of them going to actually engage with the issues of the day rather than just alluding to them?
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Monday 21st March 2011 | Theatre
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