The Carousel, Unfaithful

THEATRE
The Carousel
4 stars ****
Unfaithful
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre  (Venue 15)

IT WAS PHILIP LARKIN who said it, in his much-quoted poem about family, This Be The Verse.  “Man hands on misery to man, it deepens like a coastal shelf…”   In the second part of her great female trilogy – first glimpsed last year in Stellar Quines’s award-winning production of The List – the French-Canadian writer Jennifer Tremblay focusses on mothers and daughters, rather than on the men of the family; and the rich range of emotions she conjures up, over  75 minutes, certainly goes far beyond misery.

She does, though, take a strongly fatalistic view of how difficult women find it to avoid living out the emotional patterns bequeathed to them by their mothers; and so, in Maureen Beattie’s stunning solo performance, we see a woman in her forties, with three young sons, travelling to sit by the deathbed of her mother Florence, while also trying to “talk” to her long-dead grandmother, Marie.  In Muriel Romanes’ magnificent production, she speaks against a background of domestic and religious detail – shoes, windows, archways, images of the virgin – superbly evoked by John Byrne’s softly gilded wall of a set, with exquisite lighting by Jeanine Byrne; and the story she tells is often a harsh one, of real or threatened abuse, betrayal or abandonment.

If betrayal by men helps shape these women’s lives, thought, they seem far from helpless in the face of it.  And in Maureen Beattie, Tremblay’s beautiful stage poem finds a performer who can conjure up all the faces of woman evoked in The Carousel, and more; child, mother, crone, victim, warrior and gorgeous seductress, all fully present in a fine text-based  performance that unfolds into a rich and glorious piece of total theatre.

Owen McCafferty’s Unfaithful, on the main stage of Traverse One, is also a 75-minute family drama, featuring a woman’s response to the possibility of betrayal; McCafferty’s theme, though, is a more strictly contemporary one to do with the nature of sexual boredom, and our 21st century response to it.

So in Unfaithful, we first meet 58-year-old Tam, standing in a hotel bar having a pint, and being chatted up – slightly improbably, but iresistibly – by the gorgeous twentysomething Tara.  Then we meet his wife Joan, who decides to take her revenge in the most vivid style; enter a young male “escort” called Peter, meeting Joan in a room in a the same hotel.

It has to be said that for all the energy and wit of the writing, the basic situation of McCafferty’s play is well-worn stuff, much less interesting than the charged political dialogue of his 2013 play Quietly; and Gary McCann’s design for the show seems correspondingly excessive, whirling whole fitted kitchens and bedrooms into place for ten-minute scenes of routine Afternoon Play dialogue.  Rachel O’Riordan production features a quartet of magnificent performances, though; and Benny Young and Cara Kelly are superb, funny and heartbreaking as Tam and Joan, a middle-aged couple on the cusp of disaster, somehow finding the creativity and wit to negotiate their way through.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24, 24.
pp. 290, 363

ENDS ENDS

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