What would happen if you had a night off from your real life? In Heaven, Eugene O’Brien’s new play, Mal and Mairead are about to find out.
At first glance the play seems familiar. Set in a village that never saw the so-called recovery, O’Brien’s recognisable rural Ireland — he is also the writer of Eden and Pure Mule — comes complete with a full cast of “haracters”. The entire production is told through the perspective of Mal and Mairead (played by Andrew Bennett and Janet Moran), who pass the narrative baton back and forth for the play’s 90-minute duration.
At first glance Mal and Mairead’s lives just look a little on the dreary side. But they then face potentially life-changing decisions as long-hidden secrets threaten to emerge
Mal and Mairead are presented as a middle-aged married couple with what appear to be the usual marital problems. At first glance their lives just look a little on the dreary side. When they return to Mairead’s hometown for her sister’s wedding, however, they face potentially life-changing decisions as long-hidden secrets threaten to emerge.
Although O’Brien’s intention is to keep the audience guessing, we can see the storyline coming. At times the play can feel like it is mainly exposition, but there are some real gems to be found in the space between comedy and tragedy. Despite an unconvincing start, the drama starts to hit its stride around the halfway mark.
By the midpoint, the crescendo of Bennett and Moran’s onstage chemistry remedies any latent predictability, despite the fact that these characters never directly interact. Jim Culleton’s direction, for his Fishamble theatre company, brings the audience into the story, casting us as coconspirators in the action.
Aesthetically, Heaven shows a united front. Zia Bergin-Holly’s set design, a deconstructed town square, is dynamic and visually interesting. Her sharp, unfinished edges accentuate the overarching sense of rural abandonment and decay that pervades the production. Sinéad McKenna and Carl Kennedy’s lighting and sound design further augment the play’s shifting world.
Ultimately, where the play succeeds is in its searing depiction of naked desire. When the stakes are at their highest, the audience are left to wonder who will win the battle between desire and duty.
Ran at Draíocht, Blanchardstown, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival. At the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, from Wednesday, October 12th, to Sunday, October 16th, then toured by Fishamble to Hawk’s Well Theatre, Sligo; Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny; Everyman, Cork; Theatre Royal, Waterford; Town Hall Theatre, Galway; and Belltable, Limerick