Print Room at the Coronet
Reviewed – 14th November 2018
“The cast’s depictions are all pin sharp, yet McGann stands out”
Alex is an artist enduring the final stages of his life following a brutal, second stroke. Living, barely, in the arid, American South West, he is the subject of practical and philosophical contemplations between his son Sean (Jack Wilkinson), second wife Toinette (Josie Lawrence) and fourth, younger wife Lia (Clara Indrani) as to when and how he should be guided into the beyond. We see Alex (Joe McGann) at different stages: in his cavorting and carefree prime, between strokes in a wheelchair, and finally in a vegetative state to be sedated at the whim of his significant others. His fate is now dependent on the trio’s conflicting views of him as a father or husband, as much as on their ponderings on morality and mortality.
As a novelist for whom writing is ‘a concentrated form of thinking’, Don DeLillo seems impossible to transfer stylistically to the stage. His slow and sublime evocation of mood and abstract themes don’t promise much for a theatre-goer to engage with. Director Jack McNamara admits his reservations were eventually overcome only by having the resources to create theatricality by other means. That he pulls it off is a noteworthy feat. Lily Arnold’s set design shows us the comfortable sofa and wooden floor of Alex’s home, essential for long, angsty interactions, but surrounding it is the sand and scrub that symbolises the immense unknown, creating a sense that Alex and everyone else sit at the edge of eternity. Over this scene looms a huge transparent screen, host to some stunning video and lighting effects (Azusa Ono and Andrzej Goulding) which somehow create the distance and nostalgia of memories by technical means, assisted by cinematic sound design from Alexandra Faye Braithwaite.
Given the sedentary nature of the main character, action is difficult to contrive. The brilliance of the script prompts regular chuckles of appreciation from the audience, but emotional connection is harder to come by. The cast’s depictions are all pin sharp, yet McGann stands out, despite or because of having the hardest task, by breathing authenticity into a mostly cerebral role; an artist creating art out of his bleak context. This may or may not be a parallel with De Lillo himself, but given the control and precision in every aspect of the play, including this production, it seems unlikely to be a coincidence.
A memorable production, this Love-Lies-Bleeding matches poetic imagery with precise staging. However, if you’re left pleasantly haunted by the show, it’s accompanied by a strange desire to find a copy of the text to experience it properly, as a reader.
Reviewed by Dominic Gettins
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Print Room at the Coronet until 8th December
Previously reviewed at this venue: