The Approach – Project Arts Centre – Review by P McGovern
Landmark Productions Presents The Approach by Mark O’Rowe
Dates: 01 Feb – 24 Feb – Show Time: 7.30pm
It would be tempting to summarise Mark O’Rowe’s latest play, which has its world premiere in the Project Arts Theatre, as one where nothing happens – even once. However, it would also be misleading. There is a story, a big one, but this being O’Rowe, it is hidden in the margin of the play, buried in a past that is shrouded in a mystery that will remain hidden from us. We know the bones of the what, but nothing of the how or the why.
Chairs suspended at odd angles in darkness high above the stage evoke a sense of confusion and disorientation that is reflected in the characters, their narratives and what we guess is their inner lives. In fact, there is quite a lot of guessing to do as in the end, the central characters are concealing not just from each other but often, it seems, even from themselves what they are truly feeling. Body language between them is telling. Legs are crossed, high and tight and tilted away from, rather than toward, each other. Goodbyes involve an almost stylised, ritualistic standing face-to-face but slightly apart before embracing. Agreements to meet soon and not leave it so long next time end in hesitations such as “Or will I ring you?”
The ‘action’ of the play is static (or, to be exact, sedentary) as three middle-aged women Cathy Belton (Cora), Aisling O’Sullivan (Anna) and Derbhle Crotty (Denise) talk about old times in school, later in a shared flat, and about more recent events involving family, romance and relationships. While there is no driving narrative, the play is pervaded by a Chekhovian sense of incidental, domestic chat masking an underlying breaking of hearts, a pervasive sense of loss.
Reminiscences of their days in a flat in Ranelagh seem somehow a sentimentalised version of a past that never was. Talk of the intimacy of their chats and relationships in those times make us suspect that they reflect present longing rather than a past reality. Indeed, throughout we wonder just how much of what is said is genuine, how much just playing a role. A mourning Denise wonders if her tears “were, like, proper grieving tears”. In fact, all three ladies do protest too much, about many things, so that we are never sure about what is going on in their heads or in their hearts. O’Rowe keeps us guessing.
At times the play has something of the quality of chamber music, with pauses and interruptions punctuating the rhythmic dialogue beautifully. Phrases trail off, hesitations hint that we are getting a filtered version of what is in the speaker’s head. In this, as throughout, the playwright-director’s sure touch is in evidence. As Denise, Crotty is unusually understated – and all the stronger for it. If O’Sullivan’s Anna seems the earthiest and most upbeat of the trio, perhaps she is just better than the other two at pretending. Having coffee and a croissant on her own makes her feel she is “master of my own destiny”. The clue is in the cliché: she is lonely, exuding quiet desperation at times but then is “fine, great” the next minute. It is a quietly beautiful performance. Cathy Belton’s Cora too is finely measured, brittle and introspective, joking about the three of them “moaning” but conveying a real sadness below the surface.
The Approach is an intriguing play, with fine performances, beautifully set and lit (Sinead McKenna) and well deserves to be seen as it continues its run at the Project Arts Centre until February 24th at 7. 30 nightly, with matinees at 2 pm on February 10th, 17th and 24th.