Crestfall @ Theatre 503, London

cast list
Niamh Cusack
Orla Fitzgerald
Pauline Hutton

directed by
Risn McBrinn
It’s rather neat that Mark O’Rowe’s Crestfall makes its London premiere in the same week his powerful drama Boy A is shown on Channel 4.

Well, it’s neat in that it gives me a topical hook on which to hang this review, but actually these are very different beasts, and to compare and contrast serves little purpose here. Boy A was a cracking bit of television drama with a superb performance by young actor Andrew Garfield at its centre, whereas in Crestfall, it is the writing that rules.

The play takes the form of three separate monologues, though the characters all inhabit the same violent urban world. The lights go up on tree women, crouching and shivering in front of a bare, black brick wall. The first to speak is Olive Day. Olive is fond of a fuck (though she is not a whore, no for she never charges), and, though married, has a child fathered by the local Mr Big. Next up is Alison Ellis, wife and mother, sliding into middle age and desperate to have her love reflected by her brain-damaged young son as well as by her errant husband. Finally there’s Tilly McQuarrie, a prostitute and junkie, with her insides wrecked after a botched abortion.

Theirs is a bleak, black world, populated by brutal men and damaged women, not to mention horny, three-eyed dogs. O’Rowe pummels his audience with visceral imagery, with beatings and shootings and scenes of hard, angry sex all told through the medium of monologue, all conjured via his bludgeoning and dirty-tongued way with words.

The play has a driving and oddly poetic rhythm to it, something enhanced by the Irish accents of the three women. Their voices lend music and even beauty to their stories, they relish every syllable, they take the words and roll with them. O’Rowe likes his alliteration, he likes rhyme; he crushes words together and stretches others out; he creates pictures frequently flecked with blood and spunk that can’t help but make an impact.

All three actresses, Pauline Hutton, Niamh Cusack and Orla Fitzgerald, handle the material well, they cope admirably with its particular pace and rhythms; but it is Fitzgerald, with her raw, rough-edged voice, who stands out, as the brutalised Tilly whose actions trigger the play’s violent finale.

Crestfall runs for an hour and fifteen minutes without an interval. Any longer and the intensity, the savagery, would start to overwhelm. Even as it is, the play is still a tough journey, a long road not an easy evening of theatre.

Paul Willis’ black-walled set successfully conveys a sense of urban desperation, of rain-soaked bleakness. But, for all the piece does well, there is something static about it. There is nothing inherently theatrical about Rosisin McBrinn’s production and the piece would lose little if it were translated to, say, the radio. The writing is never opened up and I didn’t feel it gained an awful lot from being on stage.

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