Friday, May 24, 2019

All Mod Cons: moving, growing, changing, hitting - brand new drama at the Lyric Theatre until 9 June

Moving, growing, changing, hitting … it sounds like a lyric from a previously undiscovered verse of Daft Punk’s Technologic. But those verbs are at the heart of Erica Murray’s new play All Mod Cons.

Their mother’s funeral has brought siblings Jean (Mariah Louca) and Gary (Michael Shea) back under the one roof, but the house no longer feels like home. Elsewhere in the nameless city, Laura (Sophie Robinson) wants to escape from living with her parents and buy somewhere of her own. Hapless estate agent Gary (Michael Shea) mediates the somewhat fraught search process of viewing properties while the characters look into each other’s souls and find that underneath the surface, the foundations are shaky. Other than that, I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot.

Murray is the Lyric Theatre’s artist-in-residence for 2019 and participated in their New Playwrights Programme which hosts rehearsed readings during Belfast International Arts Festival. While I didn’t catch All Mods Cons during the festival, it was a joy last night to see the talented playwright’s work given a full production run at the Lyric.

Murray poaches her characters in a pot of water alongside their past decisions, then gentling turning up the heat to simmer then, adding the flavour hidden secrets, before finally bringing them to the boil when matters and emotions fly out of control. External changes happen in parallel with internal changes.
“… the world is our oyster! / I don’t like oysters.”

It’s a credit to both the cast and the director Ronan Phelan that the emotional arc of the characters shifts so gently that the one we can’t stand early on becomes the only sane and straightforward figure by the play’s conclusion.

Most of the cast aren’t very familiar to the Lyric stage, giving the characters a freshness unencumbered with memories of previous roles and traits. McCurry brilliantly delivers the most uncomfortable and excruciating lines as Gary, a man who can no more conduct a friendly conversation than sell a house. Robinson doesn’t let Laura screech drown out her character’s humanity. Louca brings a warmth and strength to many scenes and doesn’t allow vulnerability to overpower Jean’s sense of confidence and assurance.

While I’m not quite sure why Diana Ennis decided not to give Gary a pair of trousers that would reach his ankles, the costumes work well. The ambiguous, low-key ending works well on paper, but confused last night’s audience who delayed their applause and seemed to expect more to happen when the stage suddenly went dark

The dowdy set with its mismatched furniture (much of it oddly piled up against a back wall for the later scenes) is flexible and while the video signposting and Katie Richardson’s interstitial music gives All Mod Cons a very televisual feel, both aspects are effective and well executed.

Rich performances, well-constructed characters, solid direction and plenty of surprises as the steam builds up make this a great step in what will hopefully be an enduring relationship between Erica Murray’s rich imagination and the Lyric.

All Mod Cons continues in the Lyric Theatre until Sunday 9 June.

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