Talking Without Talking
Suspended on the wall above a double bed, a constellation of tiny lights hangs draped in organised disarray. Like the heart shaped pillow on the duvet, they seem to want to suggest romance. But romance is thin on the ground in this bed, overpopulated with unspoken truths that lie pressing between Ciara and Ciarán who may talk shite, but at least they're talking. Or are they? Like the relationship at the centre of Lorna Costello’s latest play “HashtagRelationshipGoalz” this production really shouldn't work. Showing too many fundamental problems from poor diction, hurried pace, acting tics, loose direction, and an under developed script, “HashtagRelationshipGoalz” has all the ingredients to go horribly wrong. And yet, somehow it doesn’t. Rising above its problems on a youthful wave of passion and enthusiasm, “HashtagRelationshipGoalz” betrays a lively intelligence at work in a play with some clever observations and an immense amount of heart, even if there’s still some work to be done before it realises its full potential.
If it’s initially difficult to warm to either Ciara or Ciarán, or their apology for a relationship, this might be because it's a stretch to call what they have a relationship. Looking more like a mutually destructive avoidance strategy, they spend their time talking without talking. An arrangement that allows them to say a lot about brands, food, friends, box sets, takeaways, and Brad Pitt movies. Just so they never have to really speak about what actually matters. Like Ciarán’s problems with college, or Ciara’s kleptomania. Ultimately it must all come to a head. But will this be a relationship breakthrough, or just a hitting of the snooze button before the same old patterns repeat?
If Lorna Costello delivers a problematic script, it’s also a script whose intelligence and clever observations in places forgives it many of its problems. Employing a hit-and-miss, Tarantinoesque style of talking about anything to avoid actually talking, trying to highlight hidden dimensions underneath, Costello’s script has some fine moments, as when Ciara describes having sex with the jeans beaten into her. Yet other moments, like Ciarán's hilarious series of test phone calls, overplay their hand. As do some poor efforts at a Mark O’Rowe style rhyming sequence during monologues which really don't deliver. Something dramaturg, Leah Moore, might have picked up on. Structurally, the separation of monologues to handle the real emotional content is a clever move, allowing for the insipid quality of their conversations on trips to Mars or Japanese overpopulation to feel even shallower.
Something director Emma Jane Purcell comes to grips with quite well, ensuring cast members rarely sustain eye contact throughout. But this too becomes a hand that gets overplayed, creating a singularity that risks undermining what little intimacy their relationship has. Hurried pace, poor diction, and compositional problems highlight that there’s still some work that needed to be done. Having cast sit on the floor near the front of the stage, particularly during the key final scene, ensures clear sight lines are blocked for the majority of the audience seated past the first row, showing a lack of awareness of the venues restrictions and of the audience's need to connect with what's happening rather than merely overhearing it. A doubly curious choice given Ciara Murnane’s spritely set design, whose bed goes a long way to establishing a sense of a shabby, wannabe romance with its longing for intimacy underneath. Throughout, Lorna Costello as Ciara, and Adam O'Brien as Ciarán, give a solid account of themselves, the aforementioned tics (shrugs and arms held wide), pace (rushed), and diction (not always articulated clearly) aside. If the chemistry never quite sparks to life, perhaps that has as much to do with the characters as with the actors whose presence and talent suggest they’ve both got a lot more to offer.
“HashtagRelationshipGoalz” might get the family, friends, and those already converted vote, but it still has a way to go before it's capable of standing on its own two feet before a wider theatrical audience. It might have risen above its Scene and Heard performance, but there's still work to be done. And here's hoping Costello and Co. rise to the challenge. For “HashtagRelationshipGoalz” is a small play with a big heart, giving ample evidence that a hugely ambitious SQUAD Productions could well be ones to watch in the future.
“HashtagRelationshipGoalz” by Lorna Costello, produced by SQUAD Productions, runs at Smock Alley Theatre until April 28th
For more information, visit Smock Alley Theatre