Friday, 7 December 2012

THEATRE REVIEW: Farewell/Half A Glass Of Water

Stephen Rea brings his considerable screen skills to the Derry stage in a pair of dialogue-driven, character-based thrillers



The cast and crew of "Farewell" and "Half A Glass Of Water". Also included are Culture Company CEO Shona McCarthy and David Alderdice, Director, British Council Northern Ireland. Photo: www.cityofculture2013.com

Much has been made of Field Day Theatre Company's "historic" return to the Derry Playhouse this week, and with very good reason. Their most recent productions, Farewell and Half A Glass Of Water, are an exceptionally edgy pair of plays, sometimes humorous but never flippant and always focused. They primarily seek to examine the underestimated effects of denial, and how one attempts comes to terms with his or her mistakes in an increasingly demanding and troublesome social landscape. They're plays both for our time and the ages, featuring men who find themselves prisoners both in a cell (sometimes, literally so) and out of it.

The central characters in each play, John in Clare Dwyer Hogg's Farewell and Eli in David Ireland's Half A Glass Of Water, strongly resonate thanks to the efforts of Belfast's own Stephen Rea, who also directs Farewell. An astonishingly subtle and forceful actor, capable of dissolving into any role, Rea is the sort of performer we are fascinated by no matter how many riddles his characters talk in or how reprehensible they seem.

And we immediately sense that there's plenty of the latter in Farewell, when he enters to something even more haunting than the sound of silence; the ghosts of Paddy (a creepily understated Charlie Bonner) and Mark (Eugene O'Hare, coming across like a less in-your-face Red Hand Luke). We realise that he has murdered both men, and is facing having to deal with the prospect of telling his wife Ann (a dynamic Brid Brennan) the whole truth about his violent past, all while contemplating its negative impact on his fatherhood. There's far more to this than your run of the mill "daddy issues" – when John expresses regret, you genuinely feel it. It's a tribute to Rea and his cast that John's constant wallowing in self-pity is interesting, rather than tiresome.

The performances and direction give Farewell an extremely intense feel – in particular, I applaud the decision to have John turned away from the audience while Paddy is lecturing him about the ghosts of his past, as we can tell it’s almost too much for John to bear – but I must also credit Dwyer Hogg’s strong scripting. The dialogue and characterisation consistently keep you guessing: who is the "farewell" of the title really intended for, John's victims, John's son, John's wife, or John himself? And she's done it without offering any one of her characters the pat closure they are clearly looking for.

Similar things can be said of Half A Glass Of Water (hereafter Half A Glass), but if Dwyer Hogg has successfully grounded her play in a contemporary, local, familial reality, David Ireland has gone for a seemingly more minimalist, but no less rich, approach.

As with Farewell, one's perception of the two-person Half A Glass consistently changes as it moves along. We initially side with Rea's Eli as he is forced to deal with twenty-year-old Whitney (the excellent Conor MacNeill) and his inconsistent, naive, wrong-headed ramblings. Eli's not only trying to teach Whitney about the inappropriateness of the words he uses – the young man talks in a blackly funny manner that's even quite disturbing at times – but also about his actions. It is thus a relief to hear Eli's wise, world-weary words of wisdom: "What you say and how you say it says a great deal about you as a person", but he has a shocking revelation in store for us that almost entirely turns the tables. What we have here is an exceptionally clever "opposite sides of the same coin" dynamic where we never know if the metaphorical glass of water is half full or half empty for our characters. Like Farewell's John, Eli and Whitney have created a criminal past laden with demons that they may never be able to put to rest.

Both Farewell and Half A Glass are clever illustrations of how one man's selfishness (John claims he is out for the good of his family, Eli puts it down to frustration) can have more of an impact on the society around him than he may have bargained for. The misconceptions of Ann and the naïveté of Whitney are no less compelling and fascinating than the shame of both John and Eli.


The final performances of Farewell and Half A Glass Of Water will take place tomorrow night in Derry-Londonderry's Playhouse Theatre at 8 pm. For more information, click here.

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