YOU wouldn’t expect an opera based on assisted suicide to be a bagful of laughs but even in a relatively short production wry humour does occasionally punctuate what is in the end becomes crushingly depressing.
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Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street
If it doesn’t quite have the agonising intensity of a 4.48 Psychosis – very few, if any, theatrical productions will ever match that – this new work by Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy and writer and director Enda Walsh occupies the same territory and with the same, literally, suffocating sense of inevitability.
The actual moment of the woman’s (she is known only as Woman) suicide by gassing takes place behind a black curtain, but a graphic portrayal of the suicide rehearsal leaves nothing to the imagination and should therefore be the subject of considerable debate on its own.
Given how far Ireland has come in challenging Catholic conservatism, this production pushes at deeper social orthodoxies – the woman is a mother who leaves her children to end her life, ignoring their messages on her mobile phone to carry on with what reactionaries will still regard as the ultimate act of selfishness.
The backdrop is a seedy seaside hotel in somewhere like Clontarf, the kind of place found in the tired old Clydeside resorts, where the woman meets with an English couple with their own issues who will assist her death.
Anyone every stranded in such places on a wet weekend will recognise the horror of the disco and karaoke which precedes the suicide.
Claudia Boyle as the Woman and Katherine Manley as the wife both project their parts well, but Manley perhaps has the edge in precision. Perhaps deliberately confounding appearances, it is the dowdy wife who seems to have the bigger problems than the sassy, strutting PR woman, but the reality is that her family life has fallen apart.
But star of the show for me was the Crash Ensemble conducted by Andre de Ridder and Dennehy’s disturbingly insistent and unquestionably Irish score based around fiddles, flutes and an accordion with thumping bass percussion maintaining the sense of impending doom.
Robin Adams as the husband has the task of bringing some relief to the tension; “I respect the buffet,” he sings. And even “What if death was a pudding?”
And life a minestrone? You’ve got to laugh.