• Chris O'Rourke

Standing In Lifts With Strangers


Jennifer Laverty and Nessa Matthews in Standing In Lifts With Strangers. Photos by Keith Jordan

***

It's a risk mirroring your inspirations. For every Bridget Jones Diary there are countless others to confirm that imitation isn't always the highest form of flattery, looking like cheap knockoffs of all the original's best bits. While no cheap knockoff, Jennifer Laverty's ambitious Standing In Lifts With Strangers borrows heavily from its chief influence, Daphne du Maurier's masterpiece of suspense, Rebecca, immortalised by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1940 movie of the same name. Where the eponymous Rebecca, never seen, is idolised and idealised yet casts a dark shadow. Dying under mysterious circumstances, she exerts a brooding influence over those who remain behind. An apt description of Standing In Lifts With Strangers, Laverty's contemporary tale of another unseen, recently deceased Rebecca.


Tired and emotional, Rebecca's shy and sensitive sister, Jo, is surprised by Fiona in Rebecca's bedroom immediately after the funeral. The mysterious Fiona, a manipulative, motor-mouthed, movie buff maniac, sporting a bottle of vodka and a faint hint of menace, seems unwilling to go home. With everyone else gone, they soon proceed to talk ill of the dead. Under the influence of that old reliable, alcohol, both women let their guard down to disclose secrets. The kind you'd feel comfortable sharing with a stranger on a long bus journey, not the kind that could get you arrested. All bar one. Yet it loses power for having lacked a smarter conceal. And for a jack-in-the-box reveal that looks juvenile and gimmicky. The play swerving suddenly into a narrative brick wall, bringing its 21 grams of promise to a crashing cop out. Just as the most interesting piece of road was coming into view. Selling Laverty and her truly promising tale short.

Nessa Matthews and Jennifer Laverty in Standing In Lifts With Strangers. Photos by Keith Jordan


It's a testament to Laverty that despite Standing In Lifts With Strangers having no plot to speak of, only an eccentric woman who won't go home, it sustains considerable interest. Similarly when it comes to being a dark comedy, the acid test being is it robust enough to stand when the audience don't always laugh? Laverty succeeds, even if she does give herself all the best lines. Yet a little generosity in Jo's direction would have served her and her script better. Jo and Fiona's relationship negotiated via a comedy double-act dynamic. Laverty's Fiona, quirkier than life, perfectly offset by Nessa Matthews' Jo, the sidekick come straight person of the routine. Both negotiating their emotional claustrophobia differently. Fiona spreading hers to fill the room, Jo, stiff as a rod, wishing she could be anywhere but with herself. Matthews turning in a strong performance whose subtle nuances can easily be missed on account of being dazzled by Laverty's Fiona, a force of nature writ loud and large in a marvellous performance.


If her performative choices frequently pay off, others, by director Jeda de Bri, often leave you wondering. Pai Rathaya's set might be detailed, its bed for sleeping in and not for sex, but it swallows over half the stage like a cramped IKEA showroom. Leaving Laverty and Matthews pressed together like strangers in a lift. De Bri’s compositionally poor decisions achieving a phyrric defeat, honouring the metaphor at the cost of strangling spacial possibilities. Colm Maher's lights might be a masterclass in mood, impressively achieved given the size of Bewley's rig, but de Bri's attempts to punch out big moments, like the singalong-an-80s segment that overstays its welcome, look forced and bereft of imagination.

Jennifer Laverty and Nessa Matthews in Standing In Lifts With Strangers. Photos by Keith Jordan


Comedy, thriller, and a character study of outsiders, Standing In Lifts With Strangers has plenty of meat on its respective bones. Bewley's Café Theatre, nominated in this years Irish Times Theatre Awards, are to be commended for supporting new works with their two year Percolate Programme. Offering writers an opportunity to try, fail, learn, get better and finally thank Bewley's at a future award ceremony. If Standing In Lifts With Strangers is unlikely to win an award just yet, it shows Laverty is a writer of considerable promise, and a terrific performer to boot. Someone long overdue an award is Colm Maher, whose light designs for a wide array of Bewley's productions are consistently excellent. You probably won't notice them, but you rarely do when they're that good.


Standing In Lifts With Strangers by Jennifer Laverty, runs at Bewley's Café Theatre until May 21.


For more information visit Bewley's Café Theatre

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