The odd couple From Eden
Meet Alan and Eva. Alan’s a shy, soft-spoken, college educated member of the grammar police. Eva is his exact opposite. He drinks wine from the glass, she drinks vodka poured into a mineral bottle. Together they make a kind of Post-God Adam and Eve, trapped in their own personal Eden. Or the dilapidated bathroom of Alan's brother’s house late on New Years Eve to be more precise. Better that than being trapped with their faux friends and family downstairs, bopping away to the predominantly 80’s soundtrack. Alan and Eva don't have to worry if love will tear them apart as they're doing a pretty good job of tearing themselves apart all on their own. Individually that is. For this is the first time they’ve met and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Before the clock chimes Auld Lang Syne will the grape and grain discover they are never going to be able to mix, or will their secrets reveal that they have more in common than they originally thought? A small play with a big heart, “From Eden” by Stephen Jones, confirms the old saying that the best presents very often do come in the smallest parcels.
Stephen Jones’ sharp, witty and tender, “From Eden,” winner of The Stewart Parker Trust/BBC NI Radio Drama Award, doesn’t push literary or dramatic boundaries in any ground breaking way. What it does is tell a simple story with a captivating simplicity, and is deeply endearing because of it. Set Designer Katie Davenport does a remarkable job crafting a set that’s essentially a supporting metaphor. A liminal, transitional space, all fractured and broken, looking to be repaired, with remnants of the past protruding from bathtubs like shrapnel after a battle. There’s hope hidden beneath its upended floorboards, but only if the characters are brave enough to take it.
Director Karl Shiels ensures action moves along at a steady pace. A little too pacey on occasion, with subtlety giving way to pace in one or two places, such as the hurried lead up to the final moment, as if afraid to linger in the silence awhile. Yet Shiels excels in eliciting two perfectly balanced performances from Stephen Jones and Seána Kerslake. Walking a narrow tightrope, Shiels ensures the chemistry between Kerslake and Jones stays firmly in the friend zone, without ever pitching into passion or ever becoming tedious. Indeed, Jones is remarkable as the quiet, unassuming Alan, a man with a past but no foreseeable future. A fate shared by Eva in a wonderful performance by Kerslake. If Kerslake takes a moment to find her feet, seeming to play it a little too big in the small space earlier on, once she settles she delivers a crowning performance, making clear why she is one of the most in demand performers of today.
At its heart, “From Eden” is a love story. But not love in the sense of Eros, but of Phila. The love built from friendship and understanding. In that respect “From Eden” shares similarities to “Once,” or to movies such as “Before Sunset” or “Before We Go.” Such love may ultimately grow into something else, or it may not. But its ability to transform lives and souls based on a chance encounter might be all the religion we have left. And that’s sufficient in itself. Yet “From Eden” is more than sufficient. It is an abundance, a sheer delight and irresistibly charming. A delightful, alternative Christmas production for the discerning Christmas theatregoer.
“From Eden” by Stephen Jones, produced by Awake and Sing Productions, runs at The Viking Theatre until December 10th, and at Bewleys Cafe Theatre from Jan 9th till 28th, 2017