Mouth to Mouth Review

August 25, 2010

Mouth-to-Mouth by Olivier award-winning playwright Kevin Elyot is the latest production from Kildare’s Crooked House Theatre Company, which opened last night at the Cube in The Project Arts Centre. Running until the 4th of September it’s one of those bourgeois comedies that Noel Coward perfected, where everybody is dicking everybody else and secrets and lies, so obvious to all but those in the play itself, are disclosed with lashings of wit.

Flitting between a mournful present and the raucous past, it is populated by maddening caricatures of middle class malcontents.  There is Laura (Jillian Bradbury), a middle-aged house wife who is ‘still’ planning on leaving her dentist husband Dennis (Patrick O’Donnell), who is jealous of her almost Oedipal relationship with their son, Philip (Ian Armstrong). They’re ‘enjoying’ pre-drinks with Dennis’s brother Roger (Steve Gunn), a wine merchant and his new bride Cornelia (Sophia Cadogan), an interior designer fluent in Anglo-Saxon who have recently returned from Oz. Then there is Frank (Nick Devlin), Laura’s best friend, suffering from a terrible wasting illness, a struggling playwright, who listens and listens but is never heard himself and whose wandering hands are the cause of so much grief. There’s supposed to be more going on here than meets the eye but the constant disdain these characters show towards one another does little to suspend our belief and when the characters voice their true meanings to one another in private it is repetition rather than revelation.

It’s a clunky, if involving, piece of theatre, its 90 minutes playing time seeming longer than it is thanks to some overly florid scene changes and a distracting sound design. This disrupts the pace of the piece and lessens the emotional impact of a play, rather like inflating and deflating a balloon but never tying the knot. The acting is adequate, particularly Cadogan in her professional debut, but many of the cast get trapped behind accents and fly into a flip too readily, doing little to hide their characters true feelings.

Some moments are well executed- a tango between mother and son, a heart to heart between friends and a comical yet touching moment between strangers- and in the casting of Armstrong director Peter Hussey emphasises Philip’s youth over the buff physical allure he is supposed to have embodied in other productions, giving the whole affair a darker, more disturbing edge that works with the plays ending.

But all these do is highlight the weaknesses of Elyot’s script, which relies too much on ellipsis and clumsy exposition, where the writer’s fingerprints are so obvious they smudge the final product. He throws so much into the pot but forgets to spark the hob and get the whole thing cooking, dangling a pedophilic sub plot, a troika of affairs and two deaths in front of us, which neither he nor this production manage to make seem credible. Issues as intriguing as the rejection a father feels by a matriarchal society and the contortion of teenage urges are raised but discounted, while the extreme reaction of a father and son are mentioned but never satisfactorily covered-a fatal error that undermines the grief gripping the characters.

There’s also a random ghostly element that pops up intermittently and really isn’t utilised at all as well as a sleazy gay doctor whose sole purpose seems to be to jazz up the production, with his talk of doing a line off the bus boy’s appendage (oh me, oh my).

Mouth to Mouth kept my interest and got me thinking about loss, longing and the legislation of love. But as I applauded at the intermission I was shocked to learn that inspite  of feeling longer than it was the play had, in fact, come to an end, with little resolution.


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