Theatre in Wales

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Conor McPherson on the Loneliness of the Theatre Critic

The Other Room: the First Five Years

St Nicholas , The Other Room, Porters , March-12-16
The Other Room: the First Five Years by St Nicholas “St Nicholas” was made to fit the Other Room’s winter season theme of “Insomnia”. It is a haunting night-time tale of vampire doings. To see it in 2016 is also opportunity for a view into a small but intriguing piece of theatre’s history. The single-hander opened 19th February 1997. 4th July of the same year was the date for the first performance of Ian Rickson’s precision-perfect telling of “the Weir.” Echoes of Conor McPherson’s mighty success are prefigured in the one and a half-hour solo performance.

Theatre is for audiences and the teller of the tale is not necessarily the best authority.
McPherson’s own view at the time was “We are reflective beings and we like neatness. We want to know what everything means...That's what makes us responsible. And I think that's what St Nicholas might be about. The responsibility reason gives us.” If the author says it is there maybe then it is. But it might just as well be interpreted as a writer seeking definition.

His protagonist, a none-too-nice critic of clout on a Dublin broadsheet, says near to the opening “I was blessed with the ability to string words together.” But his vocation as theatre critic, deployed with much play and malice, has a drawback. “I could only write what was there already.” The corollary to this, writing from within himself rather than in response to the art of others, is “I had no ideas. No ideas for a story.”

At the opening he is a lone combative character. Of his fellow critics “I hated them because I wanted them to like me.” By the close, in a chronicle much fuelled by alcohol, he has followed family neglect with erotic fixation, moved across the Irish Sea, made the acquaintance of the deathly William in a night-time Crystal Palace and changed his life. But then his bucolic extended partying might all have been a dream. But he has found authorial redirection- “I had a story.”

If the narrative is suspended between factuality and dream it does not matter. It is good for a theatre script to retain an element of mystery to it. “You got a message?” as the old Hollywood adage had it “Take it to Western Union.” But the young McPherson sifts his tale with occasional moral wisdom. “We all need a purpose in life, even if you have make it up.” Actually, all purpose is self-sought. He sees into his night-time companions, who might just as well be hedonistic socialites. They are in want of conscience.

The Other Room was made for writers. But words are only as good as their enactment. Christian Patterson is compelling. The smallness of the space and the focus on a single performer draw attention to the sheer richness of timbre in his voice. The cadence and flow is aided by the Irish accent. There is a stage Irish, but this is of the more subtle kind, that certainly marries words to an ebullient boozy bonhomie that is the first act persona. The experience of Brian Friel a couple of years back at Theatr Clwyd ago has probably threaded its way into “St Nicholas.”

Amy Jane Cook’s design bathes the space lightly in red. A metal lamp, a thicket of bulbs, a circular rug are all the colour of hell. Titas Halder is director and entirely unobtrusive. What we see is his work animating what is one big lot of words. Christian Patterson has a prop in a single chair. He sits, moves, releases sudden bouts of energy in hand and arms. The phrasing speeds and slows. A line about ruining a life is punched out with a subdued bellow.

The news on the journey to and from Cardiff on the day of this performance is filled with tributes to Sir George Martin. On one song his contribution was the whacking of piano strings with a mallet. Paul McCartney sings “It’s getting better all the time.” That ought to be the Other Room, except that the company kicked off with a bang and has never let up.

“St Nicholas” is a treat.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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