You would hardly expect to see Shelagh Stephenson and Steve Martin back to back in a room, but that is exactly what March One Act Double Bill at Progress theatre has to offer.
It is of course a ladies etiquette to go first and Stephenson began the night with her heartfelt play that stages a family’s grief after the murder of their youngest boy. Stabbed randomly in a busy high street, the family try to make sense of their suffering. Stephenson shows that grief is as individual as, well individuals and each character journeys through the show in very personal ways. The play’s pensive flickering of lights allowed the characters to attend to their monologues with passion and directness. The father’s frustration was particularly well captured, as he swishes around an increasingly drained glass of whisky.
The play is sprinkled with powerful and empathetic moments as we are invited to look at both the victims and perpetrator of the crime housed suffering. There is an almost redemptive ending, with promise for the future, which for the audience was very promising indeed.
Steve Martin is famous for his comic roles in family-drama films. For this play he clearly accommodate this experience as the outsider father figure to create something a little more dark and a little less tongue-in-cheek than we would recognise from his own roles. This play is another great example of the tightrope between comedy and tragedy which the characters tread throughout the play. This is poignant in the morose laughter exercised by the family in spurt intervals through their family meal, which in this show becomes synonymous with quality family time. This shallow happiness is quickly delved beneath to reveal a sharp, stagnant sadness and this repressive situation is explored in inner dialogues. The characters were well cast and perform their roles superbly with strong interaction and real chemistry between them. It made the whole performance a little more familiar than we would care to admit.
If laughter is the best meficine, the show certainly cured all ailment of the moroseness of the first play, but without shifting the tone too much. It was a brilliant choice of plays that test the family unit in painful crisis and every day suffering. We learn that neither is without hope or despair.
Progress Theatre until March 23rd