Review: More theatricality needed to balance morality debates

Richard Ely (Henry) and Cathryn Bowler (Annie)

Richard Ely (Henry) and Cathryn Bowler (Annie)

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Love is illusory, adultery is a matter of style, according to Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play from the 1980s.

Depending on how much you might enjoy exploring such themes, it can come across as either challenging to the emotions or tiresomely pretentious.

This production by Sue Moore is passionately dedicated to the former and as such displays an impressive level of commitment in terms of intensity and respect.

It also raises the question of what degree of autobiographical input the writer sought to convey.

In a harsher light, the play in today’s terms has a distinctly overblown feel.

Stoppard’s relentless wordplay is clever but contrived as it freewheels across the boundaries of classical music and theatre, relationships, human faults and frailties, powers of imagination and the meaning of life.

The cross-bred links between two marriages as the couples inter-change are cleverly aligned to the fact that writers and actresses are paralleled with ongoing theatrical performances.

But this theme is somewhat submerged by a welter of introspective and repetitive soul-searching.

It’s far from easy for the players to handle the excessive aspects of the script and in this instance the women fare better, with Cathryn Bowler and Julie-Ann Randell achieving degrees of credibility and sympathy as the wives seeking that all-too-elusive goal of romantic fulfilment.

Richard Ely, in the key role of the playwright forever questioning the meanings of morality, loyalty and soul-mating, gives a performance that eschews subtlety in favour of over-statement.

Visually, Richard Moore’s set designs are striking, particularly in a railway carriage sequence, but scene changes are rather cumbersome.

This production basically needs less intellectual hat-tipping, more theatricality.

Rating 6/10

By Peter McGarry