“Two houses, perched on a mountain top, stare at each other across a deep valley. A man and a woman talk about the small things – parquet floor zigzagging down corridors, the memory of mother’s breasts, brown sauce and soggy chip. But these minutiae disguise a bigger story of brutality and unfaltering loyalty which emerges horrifically through the chit chat.”
Enda Walsh’s new play, which premiered at the beautifully restored Menier Chocolate Factory this month, delves into the memories of a man and a woman at the end of life’s road. This eerie and exquisitely written play swings effortlessly between memories of bulging trunks at the swimming pool and porcelain figures polished within an inch of their life, to brutal murder and stolen innocence. The artistry in Walsh’s crafting of the play displays a powerhouse of writing talent; as each laughter subsides an aching pain hits as we, the audience, are dragged into the painful past of two people who, it seems, are more than ready for the eternal sleep.
This PainesPlough production is the first play in their This Other England season and was directed by former Artistic Director Vicky Featherstone. With a deft touch and a keen ear for language, with its rhythm and shape, Vick Featherstone has beautifully crafted a production that touches the heart and the soul. On a traverse stage, designed by Neil Warmington, the Man (Bernard Gallagher) and Woman (Valerie Lilley) are framed in a world where, peripherally, there seems to be no end. With spookily suspended chairs, a hovering coffee table, a window without a wall, and even nick-knacks ominously hovering above their cherished resting place, there is a distinct feeling of this moment (this play) existing in a limbo and the lives therein have lived to the full, ending up in stasis.
Lilley and Gallagher are inseparable in their performances that are a tour de force in every sense. Effortlessly moving from high camp comedy to the deepest depths of despair. I would suggest that any aspiring actor in drama school, or recently left to join the world of acting, should go and see this Master Class in technique. The delivery, pacing, timing and control of their characters as they moved from one memory of time to another was a delightful and captivating experience.
If you require all the questions answered in a play then The Small Things may not be for you. However, if you like to be intellectually challenged, provoked and leave the theatre questioning the real and the surreal, then this play is a must. Playing around with form and style Enda Walsh has opened the PainesPlough season with a play that leaves you guessing at to what you have seen is real or not. This finely constructed, immaculately designed, beautifully directed and acted production is the first of four. I will definitely be going to see the next three plays in this season. If they are only close to The Small Things I will be happy. However, I think PainesPlough at the Menier Chocolate Factory have more gems in store for us.
Bring them on.
Gene David Kirk