My first trip into the unknown world of the Abbey Theatre was put at considerable ease with a friendly welcome and the anticipation of a double bill of comedy action by theatre group Ham-a-Lot.
‘After Magritte’ by Tom Stoppard was first up. As the lights dimmed for a sharp curtain up, they didn’t really un-dim, so to say, and the first 10 minutes of action was under the hazy lines of an ‘outed bulb’.
All intentional of course, but I couldn’t help but join in the slight, audience-wide, sigh of relief when the stage lights lifted and we could see clearly the characters faces.
Harris (Gordon Holder) and Thelma (Laura Adam) set the scene of absurd comedy with an energetic to-ing and fro-ing, syncopated with chunks of monologue in which each character attempted to prove the ‘rightness’ of their memory of an event. Although at first fairly tricky to grasp what was going when you caught on it was funny, and intriguing.
Mother played by Caroline Pennant Jones injected a perfectly balanced bizarreness into the mix, if it wasn’t already quite a strange scenario. Well-timed lines followed by well placed facial expression, she was the perfect relief to the exhausting couple. Holmes (Lisa-Maria Woods) seemed to know exactly what the script asked of her, playing the compliant second to the pompous and aggressive Foot (Mark Masson). The lively performance was pockmarked with first night hitches but overall was a quirky and distinctive performance.
Following the interval came a unique take on Romeo and Juliet, the amusing and cleverly written ‘Fatal Loins’ by Perry Pontac, in the style of a radio play. It shows the recourse had fatal lovers Romeo (Byron) and Juliet (Heather Osborne) not meandered down the ruinous road they had. Juliet fears Romeo’s burning passion has dissipated as her middle aged, child bearing body has changed voluminously: ‘Romeo is repulsed by my form and finds solace in another,’ she wails. We are led to believe his eyes have strayed and predictably assume it is for childhood fancy, Rosaline (Lisa-Maria Woods). Philip Pennant Jones portrayal of Friar Laurence is bang on and, along with Chorus (Pat McInroy), guided the play through with a genuine and reactive style, making him interesting to watch and listen to. His authentic discomfort at the Nurse’s (Marjory Robertson) graphic descriptions of breast feeding filled the auditorium with laughter. Juliet’s original betrothed, Gordon Holder, has swapped his farcical welly boots from the first play for Paris a more sombre, heartbroken Italian, allowing enough whinging about his lost love Juliet, to allow the audience to find his longing amusing and not tragic.
The big winner is the final twist, which bundles a shedload of absurdity with a bucketful of humour. A fitting end to a unique production.