Tron Theatre, Glasgow
When the once idealistic Renee is asked where her joie de vivre has
gone in John Byrne's 1960s update of Chekhov's turn of the century
play, it's as heart-breaking an observation as the youngest of the
flame-haired Penhalligan brood's own gradual withering in the 1ifeless
limbo of navy-occupied Dunoon. Renee's eldest sibling Olive has long
settled for a hum-drum existence, while Maddy's studied boredom as she
sleepwalks through a loveless marriage is a sharp contrast to Renee's
youthful vivacity. When the sisters extended family and the similarly
exiled navy officers pass each other to a soundtrack of fractured piano
chords at the start of Andy Arnold's production, it is as if they are
very politely waiting for death while far-off London swings.
Hope comes in the shape of a portable record player bought by the
family's ageing Doctor for Renee's twentieth birthday along with some
already outmoded trad-jazz records. Renee can only dance towards some
imaginary future for so long, however, even as her free-thinking suitor
Nick Fairbairn quits the navy, reads Jeff Nuttall's counter-cultural
critique, Bomb Culture, and indulges in grand romantic gestures that
eventually prove to be his downfall.
There is hope briefly too for Maddy in the form of Andy Clark's dashing
sub-mariner, McShane, a welcome breath of life compared to her husband,
McCool, played by Stephen Clyde as an infantile tartan Tory who never
grew out of public school pecking orders. Another type of future comes
in the form of Louise McCarthy's Wemyss Bay girl Natasha, who marries
the sisters' wet brother Archie, shoving her way into society like a
bee-hived Barbie doll with claws. Towards the play's end, the unseen
response to her crying baby is as shocking as any kitchen-sink tragedy.
Byrne laces his reimagining of Chekhov with baroque linguistic
flourishes and an underlying pathos that accentuates a set of nuanced
but never naturalistic performances from Arnold's ten-strong ensemble.
As the sisters, Muireann Kelly, Sally Reid and Jessica Hardwick chart
all the pains of a community at odds with itself in a sad elegy of
lives left behind.
The Herald, October 6th 2014