The Plaza Theatre Green Room is the perfect intimate setting for the latest RAODS’ production of Elaine Murphy’s most recent play Shush – a play commissioned by the celebrated Abbey Theatre in Dublin (The National Theatre of Ireland), which has been a centre of Irish drama and a breeding ground for fine realistic acting for over 100 years. Shush continues in this tradition of ‘naturalism’ where the audience is invited to eavesdrop on the conversations of ordinary people living out their lives. Elaine Murphy is a native of Dublin who first came to prominence with her award winning debut play Little Gem, a story of love and loss in the lives of three Irish women; (Little Gem is a previous RAODS Green Room production). Shush ploughs a similar furrow with the exploration of Irish female relationships in realistic and plausible circumstances with the attendant side effects of contemporary lifestyles; but it does so in a thoroughly entertaining way, with moments of side splitting hilarity.
The central character is Breda and it’s her birthday. Unfortunately, Breda doesn’t feel much like celebrating – she’s in her late 50s, separated from her husband who’s a serial philanderer and has left her for a much younger woman. She has been forced into taking early retirement, as an alternative to redundancy; and her son Colm – the light of her life – lives and works in the USA.
In the opening scene, Breda sits alone drinking straight vodka and eating a box of chocolates in her untidy kitchen/living room. There’s an unexpected knock at the front door and two friends, Irene and Marie, plus Marie’s daughter Clare, enter bearing birthday gifts and a bottle of white rum and cola. They are intent on lifting Breda’s spirits with drinks and raucous conversation. Then the trendy and confident Ursula, who lives next door, unexpectedly arrives with a bottle of sparkling wine and a birthday cake. As the drinks start to flow and the conversation develops, we discover the problems facing each of the friends. As bad as things might be for Breda, it would seem she’s not the most desperate member of the group.
The script races along and is so good that the first Act of 45 minutes is over before you know it. The second Act of similar length gallops along with equal impetus. There are moments of pathos and dismay coupled with crude humour and comedy, just as there are in most peoples’ lives. The five characters are all very likeable and familiar – we are all likely to know people like them and their stories might even resonate with our own personal experiences. This is powerful and thought provoking theatre that comes straight out of the top drawer of serious drama.
The acting is superb and faultless. The biographies for the five actors in the programme notes indicate they all have impressive track records and they now have another feather for their caps. Sara Carter, playing Breda, is compelling even before the play begins as she sits downcast and heaving deep sighs in her dirty surroundings waiting for something to happen. She maintains this level of intensity throughout. Jo Barnard is equally convincing as the brash and opinionated Marie. Jo Short gives a perfect understated performance in the role of the quiet and anxious Clare. Chloe Birtles produces a commanding performance of vim and vigour as the glamorous Ursula, before collapsing into a drunken and dishevelled state. And Beverley Siddle is excellent as the lovely Irene and delivers her saucy malapropisms with style.
The whole of the proceedings are framed within an authentic set of an untidy, overcrowded room with grease running down broken kitchen cabinets – reflective of the mindset of the principle character Breda.
Director Georgette Ellison clearly knows how this play should be presented and how the characters are to be projected.
This is another example of quality theatre from RAODS and, although the subject matter might not be for everyone, we would encourage you to see it; though it would seem that the current run which ends on 7 December is already sold out!