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  • Chris O'Rourke

Dublin Theatre Festival 2023: The Loved Ones


The Loved Ones. Image Ros Kavanagh


****

Men. Break their mother’s hearts, cheat on their wives, abandon their pregnant mistresses. Well, technically this one died, plus he wasn’t aware his mistress was pregnant. But it amounts to the same thing. In Erica Murray’s The Loved Ones a mother, widow, and a pregnant mistress collide in a cottage in County Clare, forced to face each other now the man in their lives has joined the dearly departed. Tensions increased by a birdwatching American with a love of Harry Potter. Secrets, hopes and fears revealed as they negotiate the bump at the centre of their world. Serving up a delightfully hilarious production built around four glorious performances which forgive The Loved Ones a multitude of narrative sins.

The Loved Ones. Image Ros Kavanagh


In rain drenched Liscannor, home of intermittent wifi and the Cliffs of Mohair, Air BnB superstar and grieving mother, Nell, is about to have her world turned upside down by the unexpected arrival of Gabby from Lewisham. Whose own world was turned upside down when Nell’s son, Robin, Gabby’s professor at college, upped and died leaving her pregnant. Understandably, things are a little strained. Not helped by Robin’s uptight widow, Orla, arriving shortly with his ashes. The situation needing to be delicately handled as Orla is unable to conceive despite trying IVF several times. Only delicate is hard to do when there’s a bull in the china shop named Cheryl-Ann. An American tourist with a smile like Mr Bean and a bungling personality to match. Initially laughs come hard and fast as Jane Brennan’s laconic Nell and Fanta Barrie’s bravado brave Gabby set about negotiating their dilemma. Interrupted by Helen Norton’s sublimely funny Cheryl-Ann serving up comic relief. The arrival of Gráinne Kennan’s Orla propelling everything dramatically forward; Kennan’s detailed and nuanced performance outstanding in what is an outstanding ensemble. Only to find her Orla betrayed not just by her husband, but by the playwright.

The Loved Ones. Image Ros Kavanagh

Murray knows her craft; the first half a hilarious and heartfelt testament to her skill. Her humour landing beautifully on account of letting the audience in on what her characters often don’t know. A neat reversal just as everyone’s falling apart might pull everyone together, but the play begins to fall apart right after. The second half less concerned with Murray's incredible women so much as their grief and fears to which they’re reduced. Expositional scenes lagging as people talk instead of being talking people. Most disappointingly, a story creates expectations you fail to address at your peril. A woman who can’t conceive wanting to have the child of her deceased husband, and his mistress pregnant with his child claiming she wants to give it up for adoption is the elephant in the room that needed to be addressed. Instead, Murray walks away from it, sending Orla off to bed as she goes looking for robins in the rain. Orla’s unresolved future less a dramatic wash out so much as a cop out, leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

The Loved Ones. Image Ros Kavanagh


Which is a shame for when they draw you in, and they do, Murray’s characters are irresistible Yet with a tone set somewhere between the charm of The Golden Girls and the edginess of Bad Sisters, The Loved Ones is never brave nor robust enough to really address the issues it raises; motherhood, adultery, pregnancy and infertility. Pain packaged away by girls being girlfriends and talking it better even as hurts hide behind rich veins of humour. Still, if its drama is ultimately lightweight, The Loved Ones comedy is very funny indeed. Sarah Bacon’s costumes and set grounding The Loved Ones in the kitchen sink, sit com, with Zia-Bergin Holly’s lighting shaping mood and atmosphere. Director Ronan Phelan bringing it all to life beautifully, making physically dull scenes resonate through subtle, well timed shifts, and by eliciting four gorgeously judged performances. You’ll laugh. You might even cry. Then probably laugh again. On account of Brennan, Barrie, Norton and Kennan making for a gloriously entertaining experience.


The Loved Ones by Erica Murray, presented by Rough Magic and The Gate Theatre, runs at The Gate Theatre as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2023, continuing until October 21.


For more information visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2023 or The Gate Theatre

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