Rich Girl Poor Girl
Gary Duggan returns with another tale of two contrasting women with his latest play, “Spotless.” A tale in which opposites collide as younger meets older, and posh meets poorer, when one girl’s first love becomes another woman’s last fling. Told through alternating snippets of monologue delivered in near staccato style, some barely rising above the level of soundbites, “Spotless” is built on some theatrically shaky foundations. Yet it still manages to confirm that old theatrical truism; a good cast won’t save a weak script, but they can go a long way towards redeeming it.
Following the aspirations of its two Jens, “Spotless” appears to straddle both sides of the proverbial tracks. Criminal lawyer, Genevieve, and Leaving Cert student, Jennifer, find their polarised worlds converging when Genevieve and her husband downsize next to Jen’s dodgy, Northside neighbourhood. Yet Duggan’s political feet are firmly on the gentrified side of the tracks. Neck deep in bony cliches with little meat and broad, sweeping generalisations, good girl Jen and wannabe mother Genevieve want more out of life. Until the devil arrives in the shape of bad boy, Dean, Jen’s bit of all right following a house party, and Gen’s bit of rough following a heroic save and a trip to the zoo. A lot of great sex and a little drugs later, with a delightful moment of rock ’n’ roll, both women find themselves faced with impending decisions that could change their lives. Yet with the villainous Dean having self-serving notions of his own, there might still be a few unexpected twists as both women reveal what they're made of.
With its heavy handed, almost novelistic use of language, Duggan’s script doesn’t always play theatrically well. Frequently sounding overwhelmingly wordy and under-whelmingly written, “Spotless” tries to talk the talk, then talks some more. If distinctions in character are initially well handled through contrasting dialects, they frequently blur given their novelistic shared language, once again making Duggan an unwanted presence onstage. An imbalance director Aoife Spillane-Hinks never gets to grip with, with pace feeling ponderous as language impinges on performance. To such an extent it can often sound like an audiobook reading, reinforcing the play’s sense of distance as a defining feature. Something Naomi Faughnan’s uninspired, two part set attests to with acute obviousness. With Kevin McFadden's alternating lighting providing little help, being a hit and miss affair when either performer moves out of their designated area into the playing space downstage. Meanwhile, Denis Clohessy’s Portishead friendly sound design tries a little too hard.
It’s to Ciara O’Callaghan and Emma Willis’ immense credit that “Spotless” remains as engaging as it is. A result of two committed performances despite both O' Callaghan, as the determined Genevieve, and Willis, as the ambitious Jennifer, facing an uphill struggle given the short, shifting snippets they’re given to work with. As well as the plays novelistic demands. A clever sharing of Dean’s dialogue, with both performers in shadow playing the paper thin, male baddie mediated through female eyes, shows a rare piece of clever theatricality that links both women. As does the final scene, despite its expositional heaviness, as well as some other, brief performative exchanges. Enough to hint at what could have been had Duggan delivered something to be performed rather than a word wrought story to be recited, leaving its two impressive talents having to work twice as hard to deliver half as much as they’re capable of. Which proves more than enough in the end.
With works like Shibari, Duggan has shown he has the theatrical know-how to create relevant and exciting works for the stage. Ending like a light bulb on its last legs and fizzling out, “Spotless” feels like a weak novel read with conviction by a cast unclear whether they should be reading it or performing it. Desperately itching to perform it, both excel, and prove exciting, whenever they get to. But blink and you might miss their best bits. Much of what remains you can listen to with your eyes closed.
“Spotless” by Gary Duggan, presented by Rise Productions and This Then Theatre in association with Smock Alley, The Civic and The Everyman runs at Smock Alley Theatre until April 27 before continuing its national tour.
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre.