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A CurtainUp London Review
The play itself is largely a combination of an Ibsen-influenced relationship drama and autobiographical material. Anyone expecting impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness writing will be disappointed, as this is formally naturalistic, with ponderously full dialogue and lengthy speeches exploring themes of love, possession and fidelity. At times, it felt more like a dry, academic treatise than a dramatic experience.
The main protagonist Richard (Peter McDonald) is a struggling and unrecognised writer who has returned to Ireland after years of 'exile' abroad for the sake of a socially-unacceptable love. His wife Bertha (Dervla Kirwan) was the lowly yet innocent girl whom Richard fell for and caused his ostracism from his family and homeland. Their return years later precipitates a crisis in their marriage as temptation to be unfaithful presents itself in the forms of two old friends: Robert (Adrian Dunbar) and Beatrice (Marcella Plunkett).
Richard seems to be a man wracked by contradictory attitudes: an idealistic determination that Bertha be free to see other men should she wish, an intense jealousy and possessiveness when it comes to other men's attraction to her, and guilt regarding his own past infidelity. In addition he has a spiritual bond which borders on love and desire with another woman who is capable of understanding him intellectually.
Peter McDonald's portrayal of Richard in many way mimics James Joyce, not least in the way he stands and his costume, which uncannily recall photographs of the writer. In the past McDonald has proved himself to be a very strong actor with an incredibly charismatic stage presence. This pensive, philosophical and solemn role, however accomplished, seems to stifle some of this charm. Dervla Kirwan gives a feeling performance as a warm, passionate woman anguished by her husband's aloofness. Adrian Dunbar as the quick-talking, morally-questionable and predatory Robert provided the only humorous respite from the in-depth relationship rumination. Although the actors were individually convincing, it was a strange choice of casting that they be mismatched in terms of age.
The handsome design by Hildegard Bechtler evokes a strong period atmosphere with dark polished wood and a clever opaque screen which gives the impression of wallpaper, but also allows the audience to see into other rooms and the garden beyond.
In terms of design, acting and direction, this production does everything right. However, the cumbersome language lacks any sense of spontaneity or momentum. Also, some sort of plot development might have perked up this play which at times felt interminable. Although it was a very interesting project to tackle and provides an exceptional opportunity to see Joyce on stage, the post-interval empty seats and nodding heads give their own judgement.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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