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A CurtainUp London London Review
Triptych



I'm getting rather fond of my jealousy.— Wife
Triptych
Terry Norton as Pauline and below Orla Brady as the Clarissa
(Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
At the Market Theatre in Johannesburg in 2007, Sean Mathias first directed Irish writer Edna O'Brien's three handed play, aptly called Triptych, about the three competing women in a man's life. He brings the star, Terry Norton, to a London fringe venue, the Southwark Playhouse, for a thoroughly absorbing battle of women. It is the rangy, leggy South African actress with such an interesting presence that everyone is talking about. Her character Pauline is an alcoholic, driven by her husband's serial infidelities not to leave him, but to drown her sorrows. We never see the man, only hear about him through the voices of the women.

Elyse Sommer reviewed this O'Brien play in New York in 2004 (go here) and Laura Hitchcock saw it in Los Angeles in 2006 go here). I found it quite a satisfying play. It seems to be improving with age!

The poignancy of the crazy wife's performance as she stalks the younger mistress is a little pathetic and the plot screams out for both wife and mistress to dump this miserable specimen of a man who sets up the women against each other for his own gain. Terry Norton is an alpha female, a lioness full of determination, manipulative and intelligent but unable to resist her own destructive urges. We see Orla Brady's mistress, the actress in the first act taking the part of the doomed Duchess of Malfi and although she is a strong woman she is unable to fight off Pauline. Jessica Ellerby's Brandy has the least satisfying role and seems a little mature to be playing Pauline's daughter who takes refuge in her drum kit.

The ending of the play sees Pauline in charge of Henry's writing legacy, his having moved on to another mistress, other than Clarissa that is. It is a tragedy which takes its theme from the great Euripidean plays about women in impossible relationships. The Southwark Playhouse long strip set has a reproduction of a stunning Caravaggio at either end with one eye peering in on the proceedings behind the sumptuous wood panelling. This makes us think of the presence of Henry as this figure spies on his effect on the women.

This play was made all the more interesting because sitting next to us in the audience were another Nobel prize winner Harold Pinter with his now wife, Lady Antonia, themselves the subject of a divorce scandal in the late 1970s with Vivienne Merchant as the actress wife destroyed by a man, a writer, who left to spend his life with his (then) mistress.

Southwark Playhouse has a creative pricing policy with seats priced at 7, 13 and 20. As the venue has unreserved seating, the earlier you get there the better the seat and the earlier you book, the more inexpensive the ticket. Oh, and a cautionary note, the Playhouse has moved to a new location, from Southwark Bridge Road, close to London Bridge station on the corner of Tooley Street and Bermondsey Street under the railway arches which makes for an attractive and intimate venue, although the odd rumble of trains above has to be made allowance for by the cast.

Triptych
Written by Edna O'Brien
Directed by Sean Matthias

Starring: Terry Norton
With: Orla Brady, Jessica Ellerby
Design: Paul Burgess
Lighting: Katherine Williams
Composer: Phillip Miller
Running time: 95 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1656
Booking to 10th May 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th April 2008 at The Southwark Playhouse, Shipwright Yard, Corner of Tooley Street and Bermondsey Street London SE1 2TF (Rail/Tube: London Bridge)

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