Theatre Review: True West
OverviewDirector: Genevieve Hulme Beaman
Pros:Great staging, very competitive ticket prices
Ramblinman Theatre Company may not have been intimidated by the legacy of Sam Shepard’s classic, True West, but that’s not to say the production couldn’t have benefited from a little more reverence.
True West is a well-known play by Sam Shepard about two estranged brothers who have been reunited in their mother’s house while she is away. Past productions of it have featured actors of the calibre of John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman. These are big shoes to fill, but you don’t get the impression that the good people behind Ramblinman Theatre Company are intimidated by anyone.
In the lovely little studio theatre of Smock Alley, with a capacity of about seventy, the play takes place on a superbly designed set, leading the audience feeling an intimacy with the actors that is unusual in the theatre. We might as well be sitting in the kitchen with them.
The play opens with the trembling, neurotic Austin (played by Jamie O’Neill) sitting at a table trying to write a screenplay on a typewriter while his less bookish brother Lee (Cillian Ó Gairbhí) growls menacingly behind him. Ó Gairbhí chooses to play Lee with a higher level of aggression than some actors have, and the remarkably primal emotion he manages to tap into can feel genuinely discomforting to the audience at key moments in the play. He also shows his comedic chops in a scene where he charms Saul (Roger Gregg), the Hollywood producer whom Austin is seeking to impress.
The feeling lingers, though, that dialling things down a notch would bring a little more nuance to the story, as the brothers’ scenery-chewing starts to increasingly distract from their dialogue. Mercifully, we get a few genuinely touching moments where the brothers sit on a table and Austin recounts a story to Lee about their father, an abusive alcoholic who never appears in the play but whose spectre hovers over it constantly. This is the clearest sense we get of the ability of these two emerging actors, but it is over all too soon. Both actors begin the play with their amps turned up to ten and, like Spinal Tap, the only place left for them to go is eleven. And so commences a larynx-shredding final scene, where what should be pathos gets lost amid a full-blooded farce of typewriter smashing, manic toast-making, screaming and strangulation. The appearance of the brothers’ mother (portrayed by the elegant, experienced trouper Susan Slott) briefly curbs Ó Gairbhí and O’Neill’s hammier instincts but the play closes with the sense that it’s not only the characters who have lost the run of themselves.
Nevertheless, this is a fine production of a good play,available to see at a fraction of the price charged by the bigger theatres. A little more restraint could make it a great one.
True West runs until the 1st of September at Smock Alley. Tickets are available here. Performances commence at 7.30 pm sharp.