Sunday, 11 October 2009

Terminus by Mark O’Rowe ****

By Abbey Theatre, Melbourne International Arts Festival
Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse,  until Oct 13, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Be prepared for stark staging and grim, poetic, contemporary Irish language in Terminus, written and directed by Mark O’Rowe. The play is comprised of three lyrical but gritty monologues that begin in a realistic style then transmute into grotesque and violent fantasy, becoming mythical and otherworldly. 

Each character is desperate and alienated and all paint a verbal picture of a bleak world peopled with dangerous, crazy characters. It is like a Grimm’s fairytale set in contemporary Ireland.

Three actors (Kate Brennan, Andrea Irvine, Karl Shiels) are dotted across the empty stage, picked out by dramatic lighting (Philip Gladwell) and reflected in barely visible shards of glass (design by Jon Bausor). Their separate stories are by turns shocking or tender and their journeys seem unconnected until we catch the threads that weave them together.

Character A (Irvine), a mother and a phone counsellor, embarks on an odyssey through grimy Dublin dives. By trying to save a pregnant girl from a vicious attack, she seeks atonement for her own betrayal of her daughter’s trust.  B (Shiels) is a serial killer, a profoundly shy loner who sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for a beautiful singing voice. (Wouldn’t you?) His damned soul now returns to take its revenge.

The naïve, lonely young woman, known as C (Brennan), looks for love after being betrayed by her mother who seduced her boyfriend. She is lured up onto a huge crane and falls to – well surely it must be to her death.

The acting is gripping with all three actors finding a pulsating, musical rhythm in their monologues. The direction focuses on the richness and vocal quality of the spoken language as well as the vibrant characterisations. 

O’Rowe’s style has much in common with Thomas’s Under Milkwood or Joyce’s Ulysses. It is littered with irregular rhyming and rhythmic, bubbling language that creates a vivid, verbal landscape. The violence and violation is exhausting and almost unbearable by the end, but the word pictures are powerful.

Terminus is about death and violence and love and loss. It is a battle for life with demons and angels, mothers and daughters, lovers and killers, ugly murders and gory accidents. The three lives converge in several horrible accidents. No one is safe, nothing is sacred and lives are disposable.

By Kate Herbert

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