Thursday, May 07, 2009

"Bliss + Mud" - May 2009

The Tron Theatre Company brings us a double bill of plays as part of a new initiative known as "Tron Stripped" featuring "pared-back stagings". But there's little evidence on stage of much being pared back, other than the fact that the plays feature a relatively small cast of four and three respectively. There's certainly no lack of effort or attention apparent in the performances, direction, lighting or set design.

Caryl Churchill's translation of Olivier Choiniere's "Bliss" is undeniably a challenging piece of theatre (translation: it confused the hell out of us). But any difficulties are overcome by the fact that whether or not we understood all of it, we both agreed that we had unquestionably enjoyed it. I tend to like plays where things that seem unconnected fall gradually into place, but here the construction of the play seem designed to make things deliberately and unnecessarily awkward to piece together. And while I think I'm just about 'there' having re-read the blurb on the Tron website I can't help feel that the play would have been more successful with a simpler and clearer framing device. Pauline Goldsmith, Grant Smeaton, Gabriel Quigley & Mark Prendergast all give impressive performances as an ever-changing array of characters whose realities/fantasies blur into each other and there is poetic quality to the language.

Maria Irene Fornes' "Mud" is easily the more accessible of the two pieces and feels much like the evil twin of the Tron's production of "The Drawer Boy". It's beautifully directed by Andy Arnold, the lighting is striking and the musical interludes between scenes work wonderfully well. But while "The Drawer Boy" was a magnificently uplifting tale, "Mud" is unrelentingly bleak in its portrayal of America's underclass. Smeaton, Quigley & Prendergast are almost unrecogniseable from their "Bliss" characters (Goldsmith does not feature in "Mud") and it's a fantastic indication of the level of talent on display here. It's a miserable and rather horrible tale, but here it is told beautifully.

There are clear common themes between the two plays relating to the need to escape from a mundane or brutal reality through fantasy or struggle, but in tone they are so different that we weren't entirely convinced that they were a natural pairing. They are also both of sufficient length at around an hour that they are undoubtedly full plays in their own right and I'm still undecided if they added or subtracted from each other. However, it does mean that the Tron's marketing call of "Two plays for the price of one" is completely genuine.

While View From The Stalls has a policy of declining press tickets for events, for this production we were provided with complimentary tickets as part of a 'thank you'/marketing initiative for regular attendees at the Tron. This was not related in any way to our writing about theatre.

Bliss + Mud run at the Tron until Saturday 9th May.
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.