At Large Theatre Company are taking three one-act shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and they did a warm-up in Players Theatre before leaving Dublin.
Beryl (Lesley-Ann Reilly) offers a very specialised service to gentlemen callers to her modest flat, but not what you think…
Frank (Alan Rogers) is an extremely diffident man, who seems continually on the point of bolting as if this was all a bad idea. Beryl meanwhile has more bonhomie than is needed for the two of them. The early interchanges in Lesley-Ann Reilly’s script entice us to understand this as a man paying for sex for the first time, before we realise it’s something entirely different: Beryl’s services are allowing men to dress in women’s clothes for the first time. But as Beryl draws Frank out of his taciturn shell, and he stalks about in high heels that remind him of his mother, proceedings take a dark twist as his guilt-ridden motive for availing of her services is laid bare.
Director Grainne Curistan keeps the potentially lurid subject matter nicely underplayed for the most part; a tense exchange where Beryl presses a glass of wine on Frank who does not want it recalls the power-plays in Pinter’s The Homecoming concerning a glass of water. A moment where Frank adjusts a scarf around Beryl becomes extremely menacing because Rogers is so successful at keeping Frank an enigma, lost in the mazes of his own mind – he may confess to past misdeeds but in the present he remains unknowable. Reilly’s turn is less cryptic. She is amusing and believable as a chatty Cathy but when Beryl forces Frank to confront his sins and competes with his guilt the performance becomes too outré.
Beryl is always engaging, but ultimately Beryl’s need to trump Frank’s crime by confessing a minor infraction of her own undermines its dramatic impact.
Writer/director Grainne Curistan unfurls a perfectly normal, perfectly tedious business meeting that starts to go decidedly sideways to delirious effect.
The chairwoman (Elaine Reynolds) begins the meeting with all the confidence of Josh Lyman briefing the White House Press Corps in The West Wing, and it’s just as misplaced as her attempts to canter thru the agenda late on a Friday evening fall foul of her co-workers. Professional absentee Linda (Ann Hogan) is intent on querying a directive on actually replying to emails, Italian Antoine (David Breen) wants something actually done about the stupid f****** doors that keep hitting him in the face and he doesn’t care about not putting bad language on the agenda, and permanently out to lunch assistant Daisy (Kate Feeney) wants to create a taskforce to name the photocopiers to improve morale; the photocopiers’ morale. As squabbling intensifies Linda’s friend Stephanie Morris-Ni Shuilleabhain (Gillian Fitzgerald) arrives late and asks to be recorded as present, only to be trumped by an even later entrant – an enraged boss…
Linda and Daisy are delightful comic creations. Linda’s commitment to union procedures taken to the brink of madness could stand next to Peter Sellers’ I’m All Right, Jack shop steward without raising eyebrows. Indeed her devotion has taken boss Owen (Daniel O’Brien) over the brink of madness, hence his drunken arrival with a baseball bat. If one wants to quibble the lighting design leaves Owen in shadow too often and his roaring indignation runs out of dramatic road, but it transmutes into wonderful groaned apologies and acquiescence in the finale. Michael O’Kelly, Brendan Rooney, and John O’Rourke keep the more farcical elements grounded with their straight men. O’Kelly’s double act with Breen is a particular joy, as he repeatedly is forced to act as translator when Linda affects not to understand Antoine. Curistan’s script builds to a logically demented climax with a sensational and unexpected pay-off of an earlier element.
The Meeting is a hilarious one-act play, fleshing out nine characters whose grains of truth are magnified to comical proportions and loosed in absurdity.
Writer/director Daniel O’Brien satirises international trade, media saturation, and macho posturing in a bizarre, inexplicable, theatrical, and memorable fever dream.
A trade deal is being done. A preposterous amount of beef is to be sold. Many people will make a lot of money. Other people will have no beef to eat. Everything waits upon the arrival of the Prime Minister. And so the Ambassador (Darcy Donnellan), the CEO (Kate Cosgrave), and the Minister (Yalda Shahidi) wait around a table for the PM to arrive and bring all their mind-bending travails to fruition. Meanwhile journalists and victims of the deal (played by Grainne Curistan, Noel Cahill, and Ciaran Treanor) eat from bowls, lie on the ground despairingly, and run about the stage with angel wings strapped to their backs – all part of the colour scheme of red and white that dominates.
Nowhere Now does not have a driving plot. What it does have is lashings of theatrical mood in the cod-Beckettian set-up of people waiting for an important individual who stubbornly refuses to appear as scheduled. Shahidi’s hapless functionary contrasts wonderfully with the swagger with which Donnellan dominates the stage. Donnellan’s interactions with Cosgrave, both women wearing white shirts, red braces and ties, flip from macho aggressiveness to a hyper-theatrical incantation praising the cows that form the meat of the deal; ending with a kiss that further complicates the gender-swapped Mametian shapes being thrown as Cosgrave seems both the secretary and the betraying executive from Speed the Plow. Curistan, Cahill, and Treanor meanwhile act out bizarre scenarios ranging from a lengthy list of excuses to go home that get increasingly demented, to a horrifying way to get your beef hit, and, in, a climax that is hysterically funny, the PM explaining ‘live’ (ahem) on radio that he’s come rather a cropper.
Daniel O’Brien’s hour of madness may not be everyone’s cup of tea. There are undeniably longueurs, indeed it probably doesn’t need to be an hour. Cahill and Treanor can be a bit too shouty at times, and in the finale resort to arm-clenching gurning in the background which distracts from the main action. But even with these reservations, O’Brien conjures spectacle from a colour scheme, draws out some great performances, and asserts the theatricality of not needing to make sense.
Nowhere Now in its most coherent moments resembles Speed the Plow assaulted by The League of Gentlemen, and betimes it’s visually striking and memorable.