The Astonished Heart – Players Theatre – Review by Conor MacNamara
At the IDGTF – From 13 – 16 May
Director: Geoff O’Keeffe
By: Noel Coward
Starring: Colin Walsh, Michelle Reade, Steven Masterson
The annual International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival is one of the more interesting events of the theatre calendar. The fact that it occurs this year in a cultural and political context that makes it more relevant and topical than ever. It has for better or worse, added an extra edge of familiarity to the characters and narratives. The background for the festival can be summed up as thus – quality is assured.
Such is the case with Noel Coward’s 1930s ‘tragedy in six scenes’ The Astonished Heart, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe. The three character play is nothing if not tragic, if occasionally bordering on outright melodrama. Centering on a stoic yet clearly cracking psychiatrist, his self-sacrificing wife, and a capricious lover who despite his innocence and good intentions for the couple, leads them to the precipice of their existence.
A repressed love story at heart, the quirks and flaws of the characters is the unique spin to what might have otherwise been a tired trope. The psychiatrist (Colin Walsh) frantically attempts to detach himself from his conflicting emotions, and flounders at his own inability to employ the clinical objectiveness he so easily applies to others.
His wife Barbara’s (Michelle Reade) attempts at gluing their relationship back together slides into self-delusion that borders self-destructiveness, going as far as to recommend he take his lover abroad on an exotic getaway for a few weeks as a form of catharsis.
Leon (Steven Masterson) is both victim and antagonist, the passionately innocent lover around whom the other characters lives disintegrate despite his best intentions, and yet as a direct result of his actions.
The plays penchant for retaining the original dialogue can unfortunately come across as contrived and hollow at times rather than a natural back-and-forth between characters. However this should not detract from what is otherwise a work of genuine craftsmanship, with solid performances, ingenious stage design, and passionate writing that hits close to home being on full display.
It may be a ‘tragedy in six scenes’, but it is a joy to watch!