Saved by the power of three
Sir Walter Scott's, ‘oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive,’ finds an expression of sorts in Lee Coffey’s latest offering ‘Murder of Crows,’ seen in its final night of preview. A tale of three young women and one fateful weekend, ‘Murder of Crows’’ is a comedic and clever script, but one that is ultimately forced and contrived. Yet ‘Murder of Crows’ is also a prime example of what a good director, first-rate designers and a great cast can do, and the end result is a rollercoaster ride crackling with wild, relentless energy.
So exhilarating are ‘Murder of Crows'’ performances, it can take a moment to notice that Coffey’s script is riddled with holes and taking on some serious water. With credibility stretched to near breaking point, and smacking of inverted snobbery, its premise of three bad girls, Dee, Sam and Jess, from a school in the City, being sent on weekend detention in Wicklow with some posh lads from Terenure is just too much to swallow. Indeed, despite all their talk of sex, boys and virgins at their Educational Concentration Camp, the alleged trio of terror are about as dangerously delinquent as the girls in a St Trinians movie. Had ‘Murder of Crows’ confined itself to being a comedy, which Coffey does incredibly well, all this might have worked. But with its woods and witchy warnings, and dark, dreadful experiences, ‘Murder of Crows’ drifts into deep, dramatic territory, delivering another scenario that deserves proper treatment, but one that ultimately stretches credibility also. Even if it’s all just an entertaining plot device, though Coffey seems to wish it to be more, its dramatic twists are not as convincing as they should be. In the end, ‘Murder of Crows,’ which lingers in comedy and hurries through its dramatic concerns, feels like a sketch show about some young girls and their experiences with boys, linked together through some poorly realized technical devices trying to tell another story. One vastly deeper and demanding an equal voice to compliment Coffey's excellent comic stylings.
Yet the leaking craft that is ‘Murder of Crows’ still manages to make its way to shore. This it does courtesy of some sterling work by a cast and crew working at the top of their game. Naomi Faughnan’s stunning set design is a lesson in simplicity and brilliance, perfectly optimizing the potential of the limited space. Deeply evocative, reaching out to embrace all within its snare, it’s a spider’s web, a meshed net, the taut tendrils of roots digging deep underground. Laura Honan’s subtle lighting design shifts mood and texture throughout, complimenting Faughnan’s excellent set. Director Karl Shiels mines ‘Murder of Crows’ for every comedic and dramatic moment, blending both into a workable whole, all of which is deftly paced. Yet its three strong cast, playing multiple roles, are truly outstanding in blending the rich comedy and sparser drama of their characters into a tight, performative immediacy. Aisling O’Mara as the big, brash, sexually questioning Jess, Katie Honan as her virginal sister in arms Sam, as well as the clichéd, but utterly recognizable “Miss”, and Amilia Stewart as the troubled Dee, and even more troubled Toxic Tania, are a sister act ensemble second to none.
If the poster for ‘Murder of Crows’ looks all moody and broody, it speaks of false advertising. For this production is utterly hilarious, for the most part. Yet if ‘Murder of Crows’ asks you to park your brain to be entertained, it does so at something of a cost. Yes, it’s strongest when funny, but its darker side is a tale that deserves an equal telling, one whose reveal and ending almost raise the hairs on the back of your neck. It's a telling Coffey is more than capable of. A three star script in a four star production, ‘Murder of Crows’ is an energetic and entertaining night of theatre, built around three scintillating performances from three seriously impressive talents.
‘Murder of Crows’ by Lee Coffey, presented by Bitter Like A Lemon in association with Theatre Upstairs runs at Theatre Upstairs until December 17th
For further information, visit Theatre Upstairs