Reviews

 

Reviews today include The Shape Of Things at the Gate Theatre and Eyal Kless (violin), John O'Conor (piano) at the Royal Irish Academy of Music.

The Shape Of Things

Gate Theatre, Dublin

Neil LaBute is arguably the most accomplished young playwright in the US. He also presents the clearest evidence of why that is not quite the huge compliment it might seem.

For the new generation of American playwrights, theatre is deep in the shadow of cinema and television. Watching The Shape Of Things, LaBute's latest play, you can't forget that he is best known for his films - The Company Of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors, Nurse Betty - and that this play is already being prepared for the screen.

At one level, The Shape Of Things is a supreme example of the virtues a generation steeped in film and television drama has imbibed: sharp dialogue, ferocious pace, a consummate ability to concentrate the action and crystallise the characters. Unfolding in a series of short, cinematic scenes, it doesn't waste a word or a moment. It tells its story with the precision and efficiency of, say, The Sopranos or The West Wing.

These are real virtues but also, in the theatre, quite limited ones. Completely lacking is any interest in the qualities specific to theatre: physical presence, deep undercurrents, a sense of danger, the ability to make more than one thing happen at any time.

Part of the price of superbly efficient storytelling is that the story itself is, in essence, the playing out of one idea. While most great plays could not be reduced to the 30-second summary needed for a Hollywood money-raising pitch, this could be pitched in half that time.

Perhaps the most pointed thing that can be said about the play is that the experience of seeing it would be completely ruined were I to reveal the basic plot device. For all the apparent radicalism of LaBute's themes - the cruelty that lurks in everyday relationships - what we have here is the kind of quaintly old-fashioned plot device that used to be called a McGuffin. The device in question, moreover, is not a million miles from the sort of sting in the tail that Jeffrey Archer might deliver.

What can be said without robbing the play of its considerable entertainment value is that it is essentially a version of Pygmalion with elements of both the original myth in which a sculptor creates his ideal lover and of George Bernard Shaw's play about the moulding of one human being by another.

The sculptor is Evelyn, a sassy art student at a liberal arts college in the Midwest. The Eliza Doolittle is the geeky, overweight, badly dressed Adam, who blossoms, under her influence, into a cute pin-up boy. Counterpointing their relationship is that between Adam's friends, the stereotypical jock Philip and his sweet fiancée, Jenny.

While the latter pair come from central casting and demand no more than the polished precision that Vincent Walsh and Elisabeth Dermot Walsh bring to the roles, Flora Montgomery and Cillian Murphy are superbly cast as Evelyn and Adam. Montgomery manages the difficult task of being at once dominant and mysterious. Murphy measures out his metamorphosis with an impressive subtlety and intelligence.

Michael Caven's production is somewhat hampered, however, by Joe Vanek's beautifully geometric but oddly elaborate set. LaBute's sharp, cinematic style demands a rhythmic unfolding of scenes, which is made impossible by the need for constant scene changes that could have been avoided by a much more minimal set.

Within these limits, though, the direction is as crisp and brittle as the text requires. That this requirement stems as much from the absence of anything beneath the surface as from the superb finish of that surface is a mark of what the play does and does not offer its audience.

Fintan O'Toole

  • Runs until February 23rd; bookings at 01-8744045/8746042

Eyal Kless (violin), John O'Conor (piano)

Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin

Sonata In D Op 12 No 1, Sonata In A Op 12 No 2, Sonata In E Flat Op 12 No 3, Sonata In F Op 24 (Spring)Beethoven

Beethoven wrote nine of his 10 sonatas for violin and piano around 1800, the one that stands apart being not the Kreutzer, with its grand, often virtuosic gestures, but the intimately restrained Sonata In G, Op 96, written in 1812. This is all by way of saying that the far-reaching stylistic developments one can trace in Beethoven's piano sonatas, string quartets or even symphonies are not as clearly to be heard in the violin sonatas as a set.

Yet for their three-recital series, covering all 10 violin sonatas, Eyal Kless and John O'Conor have chosen a largely chronological approach.

The four early sonatas they played on Monday do, however, show some striking developments. The third of the three Op 12 sonatas, in E flat major, has a storminess, and the Spring Sonata a touching, distilled lyricism, that evoke worlds unsuggested by the series' first two works.

O'Conor is an old hand at this sort of repertoire. He appears to have an instinct for the sort of partnership that's involved, and if he seemed mostly more assertive than Kless, this was a reasonable outcome - Beethoven's writing can bear it as an approach more successfully than the violin-focused readings more frequently encountered. The programme listed the works, as the first editions did, as being for "piano and violin". O'Conor's balancing act was not just a matter of volume adjustment between the two instruments. He accounted for the violin's presence in the internal piano balance, particularly in the sensitive voicing of chords.

On the evidence of Monday's recital, Kless has a lot less to say about this music than O'Conor. The academy's Dagg Hall has an unwelcoming dry acoustic in which the violinist never managed to produce any tonal bloom. Often, indeed, he sounded as if he were pressing the sound back into his instrument rather than facilitating its release. He tended to be expressively dry, too, often short-breathed of phrasing and not always sweet in tuning.

It came as a particularly pleasant surprise, then, that he found his surest form in the slow movement of the Spring Sonata, where the sense of effort that had dogged his playing lifted, and the music spoke with natural ease.

Michael Dervan

  • Series continues at RIAM on Mondays 11th and 18th, at Cahir Castle on Friday 8th and 15th and at University Concert Hall, Limerick, on Saturdays 12th and 19th