Theatre: Shining City

Written by Philip North on 15th December, 2009

Image for Theatre: Shining City

Shining City by Conor McPherson
Dir. Nicholas Pollock
With: Laurence Coy, Alan Dukes, Ben Geurens, Caroline Craig

The Stables Theatre’s compact and intimate performance space easily outdoes its more spectacularly equipped rivals as a forum for detailed character studies such as Conor McPherson’s Shining City.  With the small stage thrusting into an audience of no more than one hundred and twenty, it permits an almost corporeal connection to the emotionally charged material of this accomplished contemplation of guilt, regret and unresolved relationships.

Set entirely in the makeshift office of a novice therapist in today’s Dublin, it centres on the interactions between a novice therapist and what could be his first client, a middle aged man coming to terms with the accidental death of his wife and the many unresolved issues this has left behind. This in turn is a reflection of the therapist’s own life issues and it becomes a journey of personal growth for them both.

In a compact and dense ninety minutes it dextrously explores multiple themes with an unexpected insight; these include the unusual familiarity between a therapist and patient which, while transcending that of the most intimate of friends, paradoxically maintains the distance of mild acquaintances.

It skilfully avoids the sensational and celebrates the ordinary reality of those things often exploited for shock value; in particular it reveals the terrible truth that the majority of adult sexual infidelity, in all its inherent awkwardness, is ultimately simply a search for emotional connection rather than sensory titillation.

The poignancy of its sometimes gut wrenching honesty is heightened by the spectacular ordinariness of its situations – from the shabby furniture of the office on a budget with its malfunctioning intercom to the awkward silences in a meeting between two comparative strangers.

The small stage space is skilfully transformed into a therapist’s office on a budget with the suitable mixture of hand-me-down furniture and shabby but soft cushions.

Uniformly excellent, the small cast of four manages the challenges of the necessary Irish accent with aplomb, important in this piece where the dialogue was conceived to be spoken in the Irish voice.

Alan Dukes convincingly balances his character’s beginner’s nerves with his role of nurture as the former priest beginning a new professional life as a therapist. Caroline Craig as his freshly abandoned wife makes a strong impression in her short period on stage skilfully sliding between anger, bewilderment, frustration and despair. Similarly, Ben Geurens splendidly conveys every nervous look and tentative gesture of his fundamentally compassionate moonlighting rent boy. The greatest revelation, however, is Laurence Coy; applying his clearly abundant experience to the role, he brings to life the personal grief and guilt of a very ordinary man with every nuanced gesture and intonation. He is not simply believable but totally compelling.

Tightly directed, it maintains a strong pace and emotional energy with the clearly rich talents involved harnessed to maximum effect. Intelligent and emotionally resonant, it outshines much more showily equipped productions and is easily one of the best of any entertainments Sydney has delivered this year. Right down to the surprise ending which dispels every ordinary certainty reinforced by the narrative, it will leave a lasting impression.

Shining City is being performed at the Stables Theatre in Darlinghurst to 19 December.

(image source – Australianstage.com.au)

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