Reviews today include For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again running at the Peacock and The Borrowers at the Cork Opera House.
For The Pleasure Of Seeing Her Again
Peacock Theatre, Dublin
That it is, in fact, an elegant, lyrical and engaging piece of chamber theatre is down to two things. One is Tremblay's own sensibility. His position as the father figure of Québécois theatre - arguably of modern Québécois culture as a whole - gives his own story a public edge. Exploring the roots of his imagination is not the act of egoism it might be in a different setting.
The other saving grace is that Tremblay's exploration of the roots of his theatre and his recollection of his mother are not, in the play, separate concerns. They are interwoven. For this is a portrait of the dramatist's mother as a self-dramatiser.
Tremblay's simple and beautifully realised point is that his mother practised the art of wild exaggeration and freewheeling imagination in order to survive. What he shows us in this deceptively gentle excursion through his relationship with her from the age of 10 until his early 20s is the way theatricality is embedded in ordinary life and ordinary life is the seedbed of theatre.
There are two presences on stage. The Narrator is Tremblay at the age he is now, 60, but also his younger self moving towards adolescence and early adulthood. Nana is his vigorous, garrulous mother, who slowly dwindles in body even while her flow of speech and histrionics remains undiminished. We see her first spinning a melodramatically conceived future life of crime for her 10-year-old son, who has caused some boyish bother. This thread of elaborate imaginings is stretched ever more elastically in her madly hyperbolic accounts of the misfortunes and misdeeds of Aunt Gertrude, her despised sister-in-law.
Within this apparently simple structure, Tremblay both shows us the workings of personal influence on an emerging imagination and conducts a subtle Socratic dialogue on the nature of art, illusion and belief. The mood shifts from the broad comedy of Nana's mockery to the zany humour of an argument between mother and son about the credibility of French romances to the poignancy of Nana's reflections on the divide between her life and that of the dramas she watches on TV.
While Des Cave lays out these varied textures with steady skill, it is Maria McDermottroe, as Nana, who gets to splash on the dramatic colours. The outsized exuberance of Nana could tempt a lesser actor into coarseness, but McDermottroe hits the perfect balance between the big scale of the personality and the fine detail of the complex, yearning person behind it. As the character, as Tremblay reminds us at the outset, is universal, it hardly matters that this Nana is a good deal more Irish than Canadian, though it might have been better to accept that inevitability from the start.
The integrity of McDermottroe's performance must owe something to the confidence of a director whose ear is tuned to the pitch of Tremblay's music. Gordon McCall's experience as artistic director of the Centaur Theatre, in Montreal, shows here not in any flashy self-assertion but in a beautifully paced unfolding of the intellectual and emotional riches that lie within these apparently commonplace memories.
Cork Opera House
A dismaying programme note for this production suggests Chris Wallis, its director, considered a political subtext as a buttress to Mary Norton's charming stories of little people who lead hidden but dependent lives. Mercifully, apart from an opening evocation of a yearning for freedom and sunshine, the ideological context does not survive this busy, inventive, funny and ultimately faithful adaptation by Charles Way for Watershed Productions.
What emerges instead is the metaphor Norton surely intended: that of growth from safe adolescence to perilous maturity. Arietty, afraid of being the last of her tribe of tiny Borrowers, learns to ply her father's dangerous trade and wins the right to live away from whatever sanctuary her refugee family finds in its flight from its home under the floorboards of an old house. Living in obscurity, the Borrowers are always under threat: they may be seen by the giant humans whose treatment of small scurrying things is rapid and savage; they may be eaten by cats indoors and foxes outside. And always they must make do: a carpet of blotting paper is heaven for home-loving Homily; half a scissors is the difference between life and death for intrepid father Pod.
Assisted by Judith Croft's design and Richard Taylor's music, the cast embody the reality and fantasy of the characters with conviction. The puppets from Stephen Sharples provide the crucial element of dimension, much to the joy of the audience. In a show like The Borrowers, perspective is all.
Ends tomorrow, then runs at the Grand Opera House, Belfast, in April and the Millennium Forum, Derry, in May