Featuring an all-female cast, celebrated writer Mark O’Rowe’s latest play, The Approach, is a quietly tragic commentary on idealised love and the importance of friendship.
Three of Ireland’s most talented actresses star in this sparse yet immersive production. The play simply revolves around three conversations around the same table and two chairs, on a circular podium in Rainy Hall’s dark and antiquated setting. A ghostly soundtrack of a creepy violin serves as an introduction to the play’s narrative, the lighting slowly brightens and concentrates on the two faces sat at the table, emphasising the hard creases and lines on both. The stage is surrounded by a scattering of empty chairs hung high on the back wall symbolising both the power of conversation and the number of people who have done what the play’s characters are about to do: share their thoughts and fears with a friend.
The interaction between Cora (Cathy Belton) and Anna (Aisling O’Sullivan) is engaging; they have the acting chops to control the tempo and flow of their conversations as both are able to finish each other’s sentences and convey familiarity within the first few words spoken in the play. Belton plays Cora shy, but sincere, and evidently opposites do attract as her demeanour compliments Anna’s brash and sharp-tonged personality. O’Sullivan plays Anna as seemingly confident, yet with an air of vulnerability in the fear of over-sharing about her past hurt: her anger towards her sister Denise (Derbhle Crotty). Anna almost steals the show, as she has all the funniest lines, and her deadpan delivery of comic lines has the audience guffawing.
The play also explores the sacred moments of childhood, with all three characters remembering a time when they were young, with Cora remarking that this time was her ‘celibate period,’ suggesting that her happiest memory of her past was one not affected by relationships and boys. This childhood memory is all the more potent when one of the characters reveals that they have just been through an abusive romantic relationship.
Gestures are used to great effect during the entire play. Hands are placed close to one another on the table, but not touching, as the characters are afraid that their desire of a closer friendship, or even reconciliation, will be rejected. This use of gesture is particularly good at highlighting the awkwardness and frustration of sisters Anna and Denise, who struggle with past demons and conflicts, finding it hard to show or offer affection to one another. This repressed intimacy emphasises the emotional scars of each character, and furthermore, make their childhood memories more poignant. Anna sums up the angst shared by the three characters’ best when she states that she cannot be bothered “engaging with all the emotional nonsense”.
Idealised romanticism is heavily criticised in the play through subtle implications in each conversation. This is a very funny, yet tragic story about the creation of a crossword that is told by Cora to Anna and Denise separately. This story appears again later on in the play to the detriment of another of the characters, showing how we can create an impression of a lover that contrasts with their actual personality and actions.
Repetition in dialogue is a distinct feature of the piece, showing how comfortable each character becomes in one another’s company. Their comfort is endearing and warm, pulling the audience in to their worries, fears and hopeless idealisations. Overall, The Approach is a witty, endearing hour of theatre that I’m sure will resonate with many.
Venue 35. Assembly Hall – Rainy Hall
9-26 August (Not 15, 22)
Photo Credit: Landmark Productions