A couple grieve their son’s death in this Noël Coward-inspired drama.
The New Theatre
My review of One Is Not Oneself by Gerard Lee coming up just as soon as the orchestra has an extraordinarily small repertoire ...
“Too much seriousness can kill you” according to the zany songstress played by Paula Greevy-Lee in Gerard Lee’s new play. Tellingly, the drama is inspired by Noël Coward, who in the twentieth century laced the ‘comedy of manners’ with booze and jazz while serving up the English upper class as unserious and hedonistic. In a similar strain, One Is Not Oneself revolves around a couple and their facing up to a serious reality: the grief of their son’s death.
A distant husband is slumped in an armchair (Mark O’Regan, satisfyingly sour) when his wife (Greevy-Lee) shoots looks of displeasure his way. Playing a solitary note on their deceased son’s piano (somewhat in attendance, in the figure of pianist Rónán Murray), she soon launches into song, a celebration of his life and hers. Trying to coax her grieving husband to join in a medley of rediscovery, she might very well bring him out of his denial.
Lee tries to emulate many of Coward’s devices including the stylistic dialogue, which O’Regan proved himself a pro at delivering in the Gate Theatre’s production of The Vortex last year. Curiously, he takes his time to warm up here. Hesitant in his performance, his lines don’t tickle as often as we’d like. Peculiar is Greecy-Lee’s turn, but refreshing and enjoyable. With a light flick of his wrist, Murray sends the actors into several of Coward’s jazz hits, their delivery of the fast-paced lyrics well timed and tuned.
Mixed demands are made of the players in director Matthew Ralli’s eclectic staging for Cadence Theatre Company and The New Theatre, which fluctuates between dramatic comedy and musical showcase. Murray’s role is caught in this divide, seemingly half-cast as the ghost of the tragic son but un-coded as an actor and more practically present as musician. It also takes attention from other concerns: the austere furnishings and costumes of designer Rowena Cunningham not realising their art deco aspirations, and the fizzling of Lee’s later lines into absurdities.
True to the identity crisis suggested by the play's title, the influence of Coward is too great and makes the piece most cohesive as a vessel for his songs. In his belting out of the number Why Must the Show Go On?, O’Regan stands with eyes full of fear, the anxiety of continuing when loved ones are left behind. Funnily, it’s also a rare moment when the playwright seems to depart from his muse and One is Not Oneself finds its own key to play in.
What did everybody else think?