Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Peeling

Graeae Theatre , Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff , September-18-03
Bloodshed, death, history repeating itself – Kaite O’Reilly measures the strife of Homer’s war-torn world against the one we find ourselves in today in her play Peeling, and finds that the human race hasn’t moved on an awful lot.
We are confronted by three female players preparing for their moment in the spotlight as the Chorus in a production of The Iliad. Lights up, cue thunderous delivery of lines from Homer’s blood-stained epic. Lights down and the gossip begins; we become eavesdroppers to the ‘girls’ talk’ until the next cue arrives, and so it continues.
The recounting of Homer’s tale is interspersed throughout with chilling images of 20th century conflicts in Vietnam and the Gulf, shown on a screen at the back of the stage.
Certain sections of The Iliad are not for the squeamish, such as the story of a group of children being led to their death by their mothers. Nevertheless director Jenny Sealey goes straight for the jugular as even this is delivered quite matter-of-factly. Which poses the question, are we affected at all any more when we learn that someone else’s son or daughter has been killed? This child-killing episode, to which O’Reilly returns several times during the play, helps to reinforce her pacifist and anti-abortion message.
The playwright clearly has an ear for trenchant dialogue. While the women bicker they try to outdo one another with increasingly depressing admissions of physical weakness made with characteristic frankness. Here the play lives up to the programme’s billing of ‘darkly comic’ with the line “I take so many pills, when I walk down the road I rattle!”. Her characters are extremely well-rounded, and the angst visibly caused by their realisation that their disabilities are an enormous hindrance to landing that elusive lead role is stirring stuff.
I felt the anti-war theme was strongly expressed by the combination of the two powerful devices: the verbal re-enactment of the Trojan War and the video of the modern images. But was there enough dramatic inspiration to flesh out O’Reilly’s ethical skeleton? Sadly not – while her canvas was rich with insights into women’s lives, the colours used for each character were hardly distinctive enough to be able to tell one from another.

So with no end in sight to the bloodshed in the Middle East, to name but one current conflict, brutality and violence have become daily events, and for this reason Peeling will continue to be relevant. But choosing to write a script without any meaningful physical action or plot places lots of emphasis on dialogue and the impact it creates. Unfortunately the personal revelations at which the play’s title possibly hints were somewhat predictable, and what were intended to be astounding moments of soul-baring honesty fell quite flat. A good idea that might be better suited to a short piece than a full-length pla

Reviewed by: Daniel Lombard

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