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'Buried,' 'Nuclear War' and 'Graceland' at The Old Red Lion

Visitor's to the Old Red Lion this March are in for a treat with a triple bill of monologues exploring disturbed and grief stricken characters in a series ranging from the interactive to the avant-garde.

Photo Credit: Charles Flint

The first set is 'Nuclear War' the longest and strongest of the three pieces which weaves a poetic memory-based narrative, circling back round to disjointed threads of, the main character, Max's life until they become untangled into an emotionally fleshed out life. The play follows the main characters disturbed childhood in the Irish Catholic church and as a child labourer on a farm and then his eventual drafting into the war, which is his introduction to sex, drinking and the horrors of dead bodies. The constant cycles through stories from different era's of his life, including returning again and again to a scene's of swimming with his mother and carrying corpses, two memories that become tangled together and untangled again throughout the course of the play, are interspersed with pleas to God for Max's life.

A basic summary of this play does not quite sum up the feeling of seeing it in person. As the writer David Spencer says in the program "not all working class stories are gritty realism, some are studies in the human condition." 'Buried' is less a play about criticising the corruption of the Irish church or the poverty that forces people into armies but rather the desolation of the resilience of the human spirit levelled against forces above and beyond its control. At the beginning of the play Max hopes to once again see the stars, a wish repeat throughout the play, this fevered reach for yet another thing beyond his grasp points to the lack of agency in his own life that characterises the play and creates such an immaculate analysis of human suffering by Spencer.

Photo Credit: Charles Flint

This triple bill hits back hard after the interval with 'Graceland,' the conceit of which is brilliant with an execution to match. The short monologue follows a chemistry teacher's breakdown after his wife's affair. Using textbooks with scripts inside the play uses the audience as stand-in's for students. Unlike most interactive theatre this feels in no way gimmicky but rather a necessity of the script that adds greatly to the production. Anthony Cozens as Mr. Chrichton controls the audience perfectly, relying on that innate fear of the barking teachers voice that still lies dormant in all of us. Whilst this piece may not have the deep human exploration of 'Buried' or 'Nuclear War' it provides a darkly comic counterpoint on similar themes of human debilitation and is greatly successful as a piece of drama for utilising that first piece of theatre we all experience, the classroom.

Photo Credit: Charles Flint

Simon Stephen's 'Nuclear War' will perhaps be the most heavily anticipated play on this bill as Stephen's writing credits are considerable, however, I found it did not live up to work that came before it. This play differs from his normal realist style instead choosing to expound into large metaphors about sex and nuclear fusion. Whilst the writing is beautiful it is not served with much plot and despite being well-written relies on rather hackneyed tropes and generalisations of feeling which do not give the viewer any new insights into the complex theme of grief. Whilst there were interesting directors decisions with interesting costuming for the two characters who changed the monologue and clever physical theatre, the play lacked a personal story and personal details which normally engage an audience. In attempting to universalise Stephen's seemed to lose the centre of the characters actually in front of him and therefore anything that would make this piece a stand out work of theatre to compare to the other's on the bill.

Ultimately, The Old Red Lion is offering an exceptionally good night of theatre which offers a variety of experiences on themes of grief, love and death that bounce off each other in thought provoking and counteracting ways. I would recommend taking a date.

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