Desire – New Theatre – Review by Frances Winston
Based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story The Devil, this adaptation by Peter Reid who also directs, tells the story of Eugene who inherits the family pile when his father dies. Leaving his life in London behind to restore the farm to its former glory he finds the contrast to his former existence difficult to adjust to and in particular he laments the lack of suitable sexual partners. Put in touch with a Latvian woman living in the area he begins an affair with her. Theirs is a mutually beneficial arrangement with no hope of a future, however when he marries a more suitable woman and settles into the day to day drudgeries of wedlock he finds it more difficult that he expected to forget his previous lover. He begins to see her everywhere and at his wits end, and with ever increasing paranoia that their affair will be discovered, he meets her for one last encounter that will change everyone’s lives forever.
This one man show sees Neil Fleming take on the role of Eugene. He has a commanding presence and engages the audience fully as he recounts his tale. With only his recollections this is an unreliable confession but Fleming injects it with a gravitas that makes you fully believe that this is what actually happened. The character goes from being empowered and confident to paranoid and whimpering and Fleming fully embodies all aspects of his personality pausing only to take a sip from his ever present whiskey. The momentum of the story builds well and the simple staging means that the focus is always on the words rather than the action.
Tolstoy’s work can be quite dense but Reid has managed to make this accessible and relevant to a modern audience without losing the beliefs and passions at the heart of the original work. Although the Devil was written in 1889 we are never told when this version is set and with universal themes of love, desire and jealousy punctuating, this it could be anytime.
If I had one complaint it would be that the play is in two acts – something which I felt was unnecessary and caused a break in the momentum. With the whole thing coming in at less than an hour and a half this could reasonably be done as a one act play and I feel that it would improve the flow.
That aside this is a powerful piece of theatre that really commands an audience’s attention and takes them on a rollercoaster ride of emotions as they journey through Eugene’s memories.
Desire runs in the New Theatre until April 5th
Dates: March 24th – April 5th 2014. Nightly at 7.30pm. €15/12
Venue: The New Theatre, 43 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2.