Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Dreams of Violence - Library Theatre, Manchester

Dreams of Violence
Writer: Stella Feehily
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: Clare Howdon

Hildy doesn’t live an easy life. As well as dealing with a philandering soon to be ex-husband, Hildy also has the added strain of a stubborn mischievous Irish father and a mother who refuses to grow old (and anonymous) gracefully. Add to this mixture a looming credit crunch, a fierce personal compulsion to rid the world of its evil capitalist regime and accusations by all and sundry of neglecting her children for her political causes, Hildy’s life is a heart attack waiting to happen.

This is the main plot line of Stella Feehily’s new play ‘Dreams of Violence’ which is currently playing at the Library Theatre, Manchester. This is Feehily’s third play for Out of Joint. Feehily is indisputably a writer of great wit and poignancy and some interesting and topical themes are dealt with in this piece notably the recession and the on-going stigma of the ‘working mum’. Sadly however, the text seems too fragmented and manufactured to be fully engaging as a piece of theatre.

The play covers a plethora of dramatic styles and results in moments of great effect. Shirley’s renditions of Billie Holliday’s ‘God bless the child’ (coupled with a beautiful lighting design by Johanna Town) creates a dreamlike atmosphere which contrasts delightfully with the naturalistically fraught family scenes. However there are also instances when this meshing of styles is less effective. The sub-plot of cleaners Annie and Bea and their growth from apathetic workers to rallying political activists, despite being played confidently by Mossie Smith and Trusitha Jayasundera, seems contrived and unconvincing. One cannot help questioning whether the two characters have been mechanically constructed as Agit-Prop archetypes to further emphasise Hildy’s political leanings. This sadly results in some formulaic scenes which don’t quite sit comfortably with the rest of the play.

Performances throughout the piece are generally strong. Catherine Russell gives a solid execution as the outwardly prim and proper Hildy who is tormented nightly by thoughts of violence towards her demented relatives. However her performance never truly grips you and the scenes between her and Ben (Nigel Cooke) lack the sexual chemistry that is required to make the hot impromptu sex in the hallway believable.

The supporting cast turn in persuasive performances especially Ciaran McIntrye and Paula Wilcox (although the character of Shirley looks unfeasibly young for a 60 year old mother; this says a lot for a lifetime of class A drugs and a diet of Vodka and Lilt). McIntyre gives a loveable and sympathetic performance as Jack and scenes between him and Hildy are tinged with real sadness and regret. The cameo performance by Giles Cooper as Jack’s long suffering nurse Simon also offers a great on-stage rapport between the two characters.

As with any Max Stafford Clarke production, the direction in ‘Dreams of Violence’ is slick and well paced and Lucy Osborne’s stage design contributes to the claustrophobic and frustrating world that Hildy inhabits. The imaginative off stage presence of Honey (only her mouth is seen as she yells through the letterbox) is successful and draws out yet another funny turn by versatile performer Jayasundera.

‘Dreams of Violence’ is definitely worth a watch. Although there are moments where the text feels a little disjointed and artificial, there are also moments of brutal honesty and sadness juxta-posed with laugh out loud one-liners. It will also undoubtedly make you feel better about your own dysfunctional families.

Photos: John Haynes
Runs until Sat 24th Oct
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