Masterpieces – Smock Alley Theatre – Review
Dates: 2 – 7 Mar 2020
Review by Frank L
Sarah Daniels wrote the original play in 1983 which was premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester before transferring to the Royal Court Theatre, London. Central to the play is pornography. At the time, pornography came in printed form and was viewed between covers. In the twenty-first century, with the arrival of mobile phones and tablets, pornography is available at the touch of a button. To ram this message home on arriving into the auditorium the entire cast is sitting and lounging in various poses on a platform stage, while behind plays a video of random people young and old, male and female, all with Irish accents, who give their attitudes to “porn”. Blacklight Productions state in their programme notes “we’ve been fortunate enough to have the playwright’s cooperation in revising the content for a modern context – a modern Irish context.”
While certain aspects of the play have an Irish element the characters’ names remain English ones – Clive, Jennifer, Ron, Yvonne, Trevor and Rowena. Rowena is the central force who rejects the acceptance of pornography in everyday conversation. She is uncomfortable with it. She is a social worker who in her work tries to help a prostitute to earn a living by a more secure economic path but that meets other forms of male domination. Eventually, her increasing rejection of what society considers acceptable is crystallised by a pornographic snuff movie she has seen. In a courtroom scene she describes what she saw in the movie. The audience were warned with a note on the front of the programme “THIS SHOW CONTAINS REFERENCES TO GRAPHIC SEXUAL VIOLENCE”. This horrific soliloquy is delivered by Eilis O’Donnell as Rowena with a fine balance of outrage and revulsion.
Although Clive and Jennifer are of an older generation to Ron, Yvonne, Trevor and Rowena the entire cast is in the early part of their acting careers. It is necessary to keep reminding yourself that Clive and Jennifer are older. In addition, two actors, Gemma Long and Siofra Brogan, had to play nine different parts between them. These two factors at times caused a certain amount of uncertainty as to what was taking place. At times, the pace of the production was a bit slow as the production lasts just over two hours.
That said, what Daniels wrote almost forty years ago remains relevant today. The play, on the other hand, does not reflect the different voices that are heard in the opening video where the opinions expressed do not divide on a strictly male/female, good/bad line.
WRITTEN BY : Sarah Daniels
DIRECTED BY : Clíodhna McAllister
LIGHTING DESIGN BY : Matt McGowan
SET & COSTUME DESIGN BY : Alessia Licata
SOUND DESIGN BY : Eoin Malin
COMPOSER : Karima Dillon-El Toukhy
STAGE MANAGER : Ellen Jones
PRODUCER : Colm Doran
CINEMATOGROPHER : Fiona Brennan
PROJECTIONIST : Chris Merton