The Yalta Game at the Gate: a seesaw of guilt and passion, while reality lurks nearby

Falling in love is the hardest thing, in this less-is-more production of Brian Friel’s play

Venue: Gate Theatre

Date Reviewed: March 16th, 2017

Website: gatetheatre.ie

Phone: 018744045

Thu, Mar 16, 2017, 18:27

   

The Yalta Game ★★★★
Gate Theatre, Dublin

In a short play commissioned by the Gate, Brian Friel’s The Yalta Game from 2001, inner lives and outward appearances also begin to mingle, albeit more gently.

Inspired by Chekhov’s short story, The Lady with the Lapdog, Friel’s play finds another love ‘em and leave ‘em philanderer, Gurov (Declan Conlon, smooth-talking and dapper in the Belle époque style), on retreat in Yalta, busily ascribing scandalous fictions to each passer-by – the game of the title. When Sophie Robinson’s ingénue Anna enters the picture, she is seduced into playing along, and while their love affair develops, along a seesaw of guilt and passion, the status of reality itself begins to warp between them.

Here director David Grindley knows that less allows more; Francis O’Connor leaves the stage bare, save for a couple of wooden parlour chairs and a burnished mirror backdrop, while Jason Taylor’s canopy of overhead light bulbs flicker with changing locations, or, in one lovely moment, light up with an idea.

That fits a staging where the creative conventions of the theatre are both invoked and disavowed. Anna’s merrily mimed dog, who we first take to be a real creature, later becomes a conspiracy between just them, like a shared secret. Likewise, is their affair another sustained performance, like Conlon’s grimacing farewell at a railway platform? Or, as life without this “conquest” becomes a flavourless dream, does it transform into the real thing?

In Friel’s étude, both characters share the narration, and they make the idea of falling in love with your own creation seem like a beguiling romance, while reality, with its harder edges, lurks like a quiet tragedy. As a drift of smoke hovers in the air, and the music begins to play, they seem to hover sweetly between heaven and earth.

  •   Until Mar 19th