Dear Arabella – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
13 Oct – 10 Nov
Marie Jones’ reflective new play explores the lives of three women who take a chance and venture on to the bright side of the street just for a moment, courtesy of a chance encounter on a single day.
In 1960’s Belfast, Jean, Elsie and the eponymous Arabella are all trapped by familial responsibilities be it to a mother, a husband or a family. All had dreams that didn’t come to fruition and all feel invisible yet yearn to be noticed.
Jean has given up her dream of being a Wren to work in a bakery and look after her sick mother in the dark surroundings of Rockhammer Street. In the aftermath of a neighbour’s tragedy, she takes the opportunity to escape and an impromptu trip to the beach brings her into contact with Elsie, whom she meets on the train. Elsie’s small act of kindness change the course of Jean’s life. On the beach, Jean then meets Arabella and their brief encounter will link them for longer than either of them could imagine.
Like Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, or Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower, Jones uses three interlinked monologues to tell the same story from differing perspectives. As with any play based in monologue, its success rests ultimately on the script and on the performances.
Jones is served well by her cast, who succinctly capture the frustrations and regrets of life in post-war times, particularly as it was experienced by women. Katie Tumelty is the perfect mix of anxiety and determination as Jean, wrestling with her need to accept the life she has rather than the life she wanted.
Laura Hughes, as Elsie, is a wonderful presence even when not speaking, and she charts the emotional trauma of living with a returned war veteran with wit, compassion and sensitivity. Lucia McAnespie as Arabella, bears the weight of expectation, remaining on stage for most of the production before she speaks, yet lucidly captures a woman desperate to move on from the grief that has stunted her life.
Fans of Marie Jones may be surprised by the restraint and thoughtful subtlety of Dear Arabella. Her archetypal vernacular humour is intact, but is used sparingly to bring some shafts of light into proceedings. That humour may feel slightly shoe-horned into Arabella’s monologue however the focus here is on a gentler, more poignant form of storytelling.
The pace of the story slows at times and the play may have been better served if each monologue had been a little shorter but the captivating performances hold attention with their honesty and emotional intensity.
Lindsay Posner directs with a light touch, drawing out thoughtful, nuanced performances from the three women, while Peter McKintosh’s set is a marvel of elegant simplicity as befits the narrative that is played out upon it.
Dear Arabella is a thoughtful treatise on identity, memory and fate, and serves as a gentle reminder that we should all, once in a while, take time to step over to the bright side of the street.
Produced by the Lyric Theatre
Katie Tumelty – Jean
Laura Hughes – Elsie
Lucia McAnespie – Arabella
Marie Jones – Writer
Lindsay Posner – Director
Peter McKintosh – Set & Costume Designer
Simon Wells – Associate Designer
Tim Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Fergus O’Hare – Sound Designer