The Nest is Conor McPherson’s new translation of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s play Das Nest. It’s a tense two hander in which a young couple prepare for the birth of a baby and adjust to the changes that follow. All the while, intolerance grows like the weeds in their magical allotment.
Martha (played by Caoilfhionn Dunne) is a pregnant cleaner, no longer fit for the physical work and squeezing in some telemarketing from home while awaiting her due date. She apparently has an eye for the finer things in life, though oddly the chrome kettle is the shiniest part of their dingy bedsit.
Do you want for anything?
Just my husband.
Kurt (Laurence Kinlan) is an HGV driver and a petrol head, proud to be the breadwinner and to proud to deliver whatever the expanding family unit needs. His insecurities about the relationship and the strain on their finances are hidden behind a bluster of giving approval for purchases and taking on vast amounts of overtime. The infrequent laughs betray the script’s German roots and build up the tension.
The director Ian Rickson has somewhat indulgently given the play a lot of air to breath – it has the feel of an episode of ITV’s Broadchurch in places – but perhaps overly elongates one character’s disturbing breakdown and stretches it over ten minutes when five would have been dramatically sufficient in the no-interval performance.
Caoilfhionn Dunne brings to life the complexity of Martha as she switches from attacking her ape-like mate for being obsessed with bringing home the dough to applauding his instincts when she realises he’s necessary for the longer term survival of mother and child. The storm clouds grow, the pressure rises and Dunne sheds real tears.
After his emotionally gripping scene, and as Martha’s strength weakens, Laurence Kinlan captures the changes in Kurt as he wrestles back control of his destiny and faces up to his actions. Kroetz/McPherson’s ending tidies away loose ends, understandable given the turmoil in the previous hundred minutes, but far too convenient for the mismatched couple.
While only having a cast of two simplify matters, the well constructed original play was written with stagecraft in mind, with the actors requiring very little movement during scene changes. It must make the process of blocking a lot more straightforward than normal.
The Nest sticks to the personal rather than the political, sounding a klaxon as a timely metaphor about our Western materialistic desire to generate profit at the expense of others while underplaying the profiteering at the expense of the environment. It’s also about how we undervalue the less financially tangible worth of deeply rooted relationships and human decency.
The Nest runs in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast until Saturday 22 October before transferring to the Young Vic in London (Thursday 27 October – Saturday 26 November).
Photos by Steffan Hill