Little Gem, Bush Theatre, London

Reviewed by Michael Coveney
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The title for the actress Elaine Murphy's debut play is doubly apt. This is indeed a little gem of a piece, interlocking monologues for a trio of trans-generational Dublin women. And little Gem is the new baby who marks the departure of old Gem, the grandmother's husband, at the end.

This indicates how carefully Murphy has plotted the dramatic graph. The content is contained in the virtual subtitle of "love, sex, birth, death and salsa classes".

Amber is the new mum. Her mum, Lorraine, is finding a new man at a dance studio in Temple Bar. Her mum, Kay, is finding a man substitute in Ann Summers while old Gem is fading into his own funeral. So it goes, with each woman having her say, one after the other, always in the same order, starting with Sarah Greene's tumultuously street-stupid Amber getting married and hammered in her first speech and pregnant and hammered in her second.

The play reiterates a prevailing tribal stand-off between the sexes and the writing blooms in the intermediate skirmishes. Amelia Crowley's Lorraine buries her sexual disappointment in the craic and the company of her new man, Niall, and they high-tail it to Paris, drinking wine and pulling up short in front of the Arc de Triomphe. There's nothing like that when you get off the DART at Tara Street.

It is as if Murphy is resurrecting the old Dublin that is buried under the new European boom and sheen – but she is probably just saying it is still there. Certainly Kay, the materfamilias played with sly cheek and glowing mischievousness by the red-haired Anita Reeves, is a character straight from the catalogue of Synge, O'Casey and Joyce.

Like many Irish playwrights since Brian Friel, Murphy seems to be laying out her material before stitching together a theatrical garment. But she is an exhilarating new talent and Paul Meade's visiting production for Guna Nua and the Civic in Dublin does her proud.



To 22 May (020 8743 5050; Bushtheatre.co.uk)

Comments