Theatre review: The Approach, Assembly Hall

Cathy Belton and Aisling O'Sullivan. Picture: Patrick Redmond
Cathy Belton and Aisling O'Sullivan. Picture: Patrick Redmond
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To those who remember Mark O’Rowe’s visceral early plays, Howie the Rookie and Terminus, his latest work might come as a bit of surprise.

The Approach, Assembly Hall (Venue 35) ****

The Approach, which he also directs, is restrained and meticulous, a work in which every nuance counts and in which the unsaid is at least as important as the spoken lines.

The play traces the friendships and fault lines between three women: sisters Anna and Denise, and their mutual friend Cora. Their lives are charted in three conversations, each involving two of the women, taking place in anonymous Dublin coffee shops over the course of about five years. The play opens with Cora (Cathy Belton) and Anna (Aisling O’Sullivan) discussing Anna’s rift with Denise (Derbhle Crotty) over a man who was the lover of both of them and is now dead. Yet, as the play advances, the rift is healed and the man proclaimed to be of little consequence. That isn’t the cause of the play’s lingering unease, in fact, the various relationships with men through which the women meander in the course of the play seem fairly peripheral. The core lies elsewhere.

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Yet there are no dramatic revelations. Much of what is said is the conversational equivalent of Polyfilla – or so it appears: the admiring of a bracelet, the discussion of a diet regime. But the underlying sense of discomfort has us combing back through the pleasantries for the tells we might have missed.

Three of Ireland’s top actresses apply themselves to the roles with care and precision. However, like Sinead McKenna’s carefully anonymous set, they, too, become almost anonymous. As conversations circle and anecdotes reccur in different guises, we are left wondering if everyone has lied, if anyone is happy, and who has suffered the most.

• Until 26 August, 1:25pm.