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  • Chris O'Rourke

Beckett Friel Pinter Festival

Owen Roe. Photo by The Gate Theatre

Beckett Friel Pinter Festival:

One for the Road and Afterplay

As the Gate Theatre’s five star “Beckett Friel Pinter Festival” draws to a close, its final week is certainly a case of opposites attract. Rounding off its programme of six productions with Harold Pinter’s, “One for the Road,” and Brian Friel’s, “Afterplay,” binary opposites craft a memorable night of theatre. On the one hand, you have a disturbing indictment of all that is reprehensible in man. At the other extreme, you have a gentle portrayal of humanity at its battered best. Together, they make for an irresistible combination. For anyone unsure what white, male, patriarchal privilege looks like, look no further than Harold Pinter’s 1984 short play, “One for the Road.” Middle aged, dripping with patriarchal power and political privilege, Nick is lord of all he surveys simply because he has the power to do so. In a room in a many roomed building, Nick interrogates and tortures a mixed-race family with consummate charm and ease. We don't know where, we don't know when, and we never know why they’re being tortured. But that’s the point as Pinter strips away any possibility these actions could be rationally justified. There’s only one reason: politically and personally Nick has power and he intends to keep it. Power which he can only hold by ensuring everyone not like him is made other, made inferior, and rendered powerless. If not everybody’s crazy about this sharp dressed man, Nick knows he’s doing God’s work. Which God? His God obviously, the only real God there is. A God who seems to have a series of hells ready and waiting for Nick to play with. There’s the hell for weaker men, the hell for weaker children, with the most horrific hell of all, reserved for those deemed most dangerous of all, being the hell reserved for women.

Under Doug Hughes’s astute direction, Owen Roe, as the death dealing, whiskey drinking Nick, is disturbingly mesmerising as patriarchal power and privilege personified. “One for the Road” might resonate uncomfortably with much that’s current on the political stage, nationally and internationally, but Hughes is not afraid to go there and ask the difficult questions. But he does so trusting Pinter’s script to do the heavy lifting, and trusting Roe, ably supported by Shadaan Felfeli as the tortured father, Victor, Daniel Lynch or Pharell Evenor as his son, Nicky, and Rachel O’Byrne as his abused and tortured wife, Gila, to show us the ugly underbelly of patriarchal privilege.

Derbhle Crotty. Photo by The Gate Theatre

If “One for the Road” is determined to disturb the comfortable, Brian Friel’s delightful 2002, one act play, “Afterplay,” is resolute in comforting the disturbed. Built around an imagined scene between two Chekhovian characters, Sonya from “Uncle Vanya” and Andrey from “Three Sisters”, “Afterplay” is a lovingly observed exploration of love and loneliness. A heart-warming tale of two threadbare souls finding the courage beyond the courage to go on.

Meeting by chance over a late evening snack in a hotel in 1920's Moscow, Sonya and Andrey find they have an ease with one another and begin sharing their life stories. Stories, as in fictions. For if life is what happens when you're waiting for your life to happen, sometimes it easier to pretend otherwise. Slowly, over the course of the evening, confessions see both lowering their guards, as well as their masks, to reveal the beat-up damage beyond the appearance. What lies beneath are two souls who love desperately and deeply whatever the cost. It may all end at the bottom of a bottle, or nothing may ever change, but maybe, just maybe, there’s a chance worth the taking if you can just find the fortitude to risk it.

Denis Conway. Photo by The Gate Theatre

Friel’s near perfect masterpiece shows a deep understanding of Chekhov, as well as a finely and subtly observed understanding of humanity, harmonised within the simplest of structures. Director Mark O’Rowe understands the importance of striking that perfect balance, in which the delicate power shifts between the active Sonja and the passive Andrey are carefully played out. This he achieves with deft assurance, showing incredible skill and finesse. As does his stellar cast of Derbhle Crotty and Denis Conway. Crotty is astonishingly good as the world-weary, yet eternally determined Sonja, as is Conway as Andrey, a man so buried in lies as to be almost hopeless and invisible. Individually outstanding, together Conway and Crotty have an irresistible chemistry. Steeped in heartache and heart, “Afterplay” is a joyous production that hopes for the hopeless. A production that burrows its way inside, taking up residence, ensuring you will carry it with you for many, many years to come.

“One for the Road” by Harold Pinter’s, and “Afterplay” Brian Friel, run as part of the Gate Theatre’s “Beckett Friel Pinter Festival” until March 25th.

The festival concludes on March 26th with a poetry and prose reading.

For further information, visit The Gate Theatre

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