Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Review The End Of Hope/Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall

Peter Barker relishes two very different one-act plays about romantic relationships, both stylishly directed and performed.    

The End Of Hope
by David Ireland
Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall
by Brad Birch


An evening at the Orange Tree Theatre sees the revival of a pair of intense two-handers - a comedy by established Belfast playwright and actor David Ireland and a poetic drama from young writer Brad Birch. 

The End Of Hope charts a night of casual sex between Dermot (Rufus Wright), apparently "Ireland's greatest living poet",  and Janet (Elinor Lawless), a supermarket worker with low self-esteem about her looks.

This is set against a Northern Irish backdrop and, yes, there is a Catholic and Protestant element but the focus is on an unlikely romance between a man and a woman with a dark, comedic twist.

Janet hides herself behind a mouse mask, even if she proves eventually to be a ballsy personality  and disclosures about a past relationship reveal a bizarre secret.

Ireland’s script is witty, outrageous, surreal and inventive, providing an entertaining and sometimes shocking hour of theatre on an effective simple set, a bed in the middle of the space, from designer Max Dorey.

Wright and Lawless have terrific chemistry, commanding the audience's attention as an odd couple -  atheist, Protestant, former Catholic, mouse impersonator, married man.

Ireland's play can be tricksy, as well as entertaining, and director Max Elton confidently handles the pacing, laughs and tricky changes of tone from jokiness to threat and back again.  All in all, a play and production meriting a green light.

Brad Birch's play, first seen at the Soho Theatre in 2013, is a far more serious drama, but not without moments of wit.

Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against a Brick Wall has a serious intent, examining the emptiness of modern life. However the playwright's bold ambitions are undermined by a hackneyed scenario.  

We are drawn into the mundane lives and thoughts, through soliloquies, of Him and Her, a young city worker couple (Orlando James and Georgina Campbell) utterly disillusioned with their stale, flat and unprofitable worlds.

This is a play from a young writer about 20-somethings, ruled by the clock, technology, bills and everything else that makes up modern life.

However, for those who remember it, there is a feel of Reginald Perrin territory, admittedly with more swearing and less middle-aged, in the rebellion against their repetitive, corporate-driven life: "This isn't reality, this is the f****ing office".

We are given their diurnal round -- waking, eating, travelling, working, drinking, sleeping played out on another strikingly effective and ingenious Max Dorey set.

Two benches are the only furniture serving as desk, bed, barricade, office. The two rebels grasp the eye-catching splash-of-colour orange props waiting for them on hooks hanging from the ceiling.

Under director Hannah De Ville’s focussed, rhythmic direction , there's enough momentum to allow us to accept the artificiality of the the characters breaking the fourth wall relaying their innermost thoughts. 

However this piece's structure, rather than the direction,  after establishing with energy its questions about modern life, lets the play down. The ending feels downbeat and unsatisfying after the previous pace and exuberance and it's an amber light.

These two plays, with lighting by Stuart Burgess and sound by Richard Bell, form part of a Directors' Festival  showcasing directors on  the Orange Tree Theatre and St Mary's University Theatre Directing MA.

Judging by these productions, it's well worth grabbing one of the £7.50 tickets and seeing any of the plays before the festival ends on Saturday, July 29.

Alongside the pieces I saw, the run includes Albert's Boy by James Graham directed by Kate Campbell, Misterman by Enda Walsh directed by Grace Vaughan and Wasted by Kate Tempest directed by Jamie Woods.

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