Review: WexFour

Can four short plays by world-class Wexford writers ever add up to the sum of its parts?

Wexfour begins with Erosion, a soft, lambent monologue by Colm Tóibín. Photograph: Frank Miller

Wexfour begins with Erosion, a soft, lambent monologue by Colm Tóibín. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

WexFour

Wexford Arts Centre

***

There may be such a thing as Wexford influence in this collection of four short plays, but there is little evidence of a Wexford style. That may be a reassuring measure of literary individuality from Wexford-born Billy Roche, Eoin Colfer and John Banville, and Wexford-educated Colm Tóibín, but it makes for a curious, disjointed performance, a revue show by marquee names.

Designed to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Wexford Arts Centre, the programme’s title is modest and non-prescriptive, but the form – the short play – is more challenging; answered with everything from a speech to a story to a sketch. Consequently, director Ben Barnes here delivers theatre as a tasting menu, sparsely designed by Joe Vanek and nicely scored live by Eleanor McEvoy, but with no obvious way to serve it.

A soft, lambent monologue by Colm Tóibín, Erosion, begins the show, delivered by Mark Lambert. The description of waves that recall “a hollow curl, like a pulling in of breath, and then a folding back”, announces the delicacy and interiority of a prose piece, where a cliff-top home, and a life, are gradually wearing away. Poetically forlorn, but without individual voice, the text requires Lambert to bring the breath of gruff character.

Billy Roche’s monologue The Dog and Bone is a sophisticated piece with a light touch, conveying enough substance to sustain a full play. Andrea Irvine plays one unhappy point of a love triangle, a woman isolated and exiled, who might have stepped right out of Arthurian fable or Greek myth, or from down the road. That is Roche’s speciality, whose theatre has most honoured Wexford – letting us see legend in our lives.

My Real Life, Eoin Colfer’s offering, is a quirkier and somehow darker piece in which Don Wycherley plays an MS sufferer, determined to die by his own hand, while dictating his own scabrous eulogy. It’s equal parts earthy authenticity and absurd fantasy (“At the beginning of the night you get the appearances,” he says of one Wexford Opera charlatan, “and at the end you get the truth.”), erring on the side of comedy. Perhaps that’s the only way to conclude, as John Banville’s surprisingly knockabout piece, Prince Charming and the Dame, stages a backstage breakdown during a pantomime, lampooning theatrical hierarchy and happy-ever-after narratives. “I can’t go on.” “Oh – yes – you – can!”

WexFour could never add up to the sum of its parts, of course; instead you get an evening more easily divided.