FringeReview UK 2016
In a Lyric Theatre Belfast/Young Vic Co-production directed by Ian Rickson, Conor McPherson translates and updates Franz Xaver Kroetz’s 1975 The Nest, with a set and costumes by Alyson Cummins, lit by Zia Holly. P J Harvey’s original score makes extensive use of keyboard.
Conor McPherson translates and updates Franz Xaver Kroetz’s 1975 The Nest, in a Lyric Theatre Belfast/Young Vic Co-production directed by Ian Rickson with a set and costumes by Alyson Cummins, lit by Zia Holly. P J Harvey’s original score segues into the redemptive note of the play.
Redemption is McPherson’s middle name, and the transcendence this play affords with the Harvey score plunking meaningfully in the background underscores it. It’s not a long play and the decision to run straight through is wise, not least because of the slow incremental details, slower-paced in its two-year traversal than even some McPherson pieces, with long non-verbal dumb shows that again underline just who the translator is. Played as here by Caoilfhionn Dunne as Martha and Kurt by Laurence Kinlan only the original names honour the Germanic roots: it’s otherwise rooted in Ireland: Euros and metrics just as much a feature in both countries.
Dunne’s containment is the more moving for her sudden hints of warmth. Kinlan’s vulnerability and cracking open provide a powerful climactic scene calling forth monsters and finding them inside.
Dunne’s heavily pregnant Martha is on an endgame with her employers, fruitlessly telemarketing whilst union-shunning Kurt’s haulage jobs stretch him farther than he can manage. Both want the best for their (originally) German post-war miracle baby. Nothing second hand for instance. Kurt’s boss plays on his willingness to literally go the extra kilometres treating a day out by a lake as a wasted opportunity.
After several scenes of amassing a vast baby-list of costings, it’s the far shrewder Martha who twigs the cost. ‘There’s more to life than mental health, you know’ Kurt ripostes to Martha but in fact he remembers the lake. You feel with that riposte this won’t end easily either, though it’s not predictable. There’s cringey comedy too when during pregnancy and after Martha’s sexual unavailability means Kurt wishes to vent his frustration. ‘Come here, I’ll do it.’ ‘No, I’ll be quicker.’
Kurt’s green-fingered though and Cummins’ use of a drab stretch of living space that’s seen a scum-tided flood heightens with strange off-cuts of nature, revealed as an allotment under two panels, a foreground of lakeside and a fringe of trees lit just once. The space is encroached on by nature; this might be benign. Again the organic yearnings of the couple, simply asserted, offset virulent chemicals encountered later: too simple an antimony, but McPherson and Rickson make it work.
Kurt’s boss has a secret job for him and only later do we realize Kurt’s solution. Meanwhile Martha takes the air baby (no clumsy dolls here) to that lakeside contentedness.
What follows shatters the pace into something other, and subsequent recrimination (‘I’m shackled to a trained ape’ Martha reduces Kurt to Woyzeck status) leaves Kurt so suicidal his attempts take on a kind of Absurd Person Singular farce. Then the strange scene McPherson might have written himself, with a long immersion in P J Harvey too. It makes more of a symbolic atonement than perhaps Kroetz intended. It hardly matters. The denouement is in keeping with McPherson’s ethos.
There are times when pace might have picked up: the tided hyper-naturalism has washed up about nine inches but not over the actors’ heads. The repose necessary wouldn’t have been sacrificed by a little zip. At ninety minutes it’s already picked up about ten minutes; perhaps another ten would earn it star status. Nevertheless this translation is more than a vivid spin on a foreign play. McPherson has spotted kindred and made it a blood brother of his imagination.