It is just as well that two short plays are performed as though they are two scenes of the same act, with no interval. I wonder how many would have returned, their patience tried by Lunch, for The Bow of Ulysses, the latter being a rather meaningless title, at least to me, rather like that James Bond movie titled Quantum of Solace. My only familiarity with Ulysses, the James Joyce novel to which I assume the title of one of the plays is derived, was hearing the last few pages of it read out at a rather avant-garde civil wedding ceremony (as opposed to a religious one), and this play came across just as zany, and as brutally honest, even to the point of incivility.
That said, I have developed an increasingly strong belief that familiarity, however rudimentary, with source material should not be necessary to get to grips with a show. What became clear in conversations in the theatre bar after the show was that it was difficult for people without background knowledge to grasp exactly why the show had a stream-of-consciousness flavour about it, or what the connection ‘the bow of Ulysses’ has with the plot. As I am not inclined to give too much away, I can only invite interested readers to consider looking up Ulysses’ bow (perhaps go for the Greek name Odysseus – Ulysses is the Latin equivalent) should they wish to discover more.
Turning back to Lunch, an initially amusing reticence on the unimaginatively-named Man (Shaun Dooley) goes on for so long it soon outlasts its welcome. Neither play is exactly family viewing, and in the almost relentless voicing of thoughts, Lunch was painfully melodramatic for me. Others, however, found it rather comical. But the descriptions of what we can already see the other character doing felt tiresome and unnecessary, and nearly patronising. The audience is not given the opportunity to work out what is happening for themselves. That is frustrating.
There’s an awful lot of yelling from Man at a civilised and calm Woman (Emily Bruni), in a performance that was mostly noise and little substance, or at least genuine emotion, as he rants about trivial matters. What was pleasing to see, however, was Woman’s ability to see right through Man and his alpha male personality. But, in the end, I couldn’t see the point of it all, a conclusion underlined by The Bow of Ulysses.
Devoid of the ridiculous sentimentality of the first play, the second was infinitely more appealing, not least because of a substantially more measured delivery from Man, who supplies a likeable rendering of a dense script. The sound effects were consistent but eventually proved distracting in contrast to the passive-aggressive stance being taken by both characters. The story became very interesting to listen to – to be blunt, Lunch could have been taken out completely without affecting comprehension and enjoyment of The Bow of Ulysses.
Where the second play falls down is that it does take more concentration than one would normally expect from a short two-hander – it is not as if there are too many characters to consider. But, this being a variation on Joyce’s Ulysses, it is at least faithful to the spirit of that novel. The unusually long monologues that underpin the play do not make it easy to maintain the level of focus required to fully appreciate everything being said. That said, if you’re up for some challenging theatre and something a little different, here’s a short play for you. Two for the price of one, in fact.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Witness a couple meeting for the first time, on a bench in a park near the sea. Then find them again years later, and experience through them the paradoxical isolation and partnership that comes after two decades of coupledom.
Lunch and its sequel The Bow of Ulysses are two of Berkoff’s finest small pieces examining human relationships.
Nigel Harman heads a first class creative team which includes Olivier Award-nominated sound designers Ben & Max Ringham, designer Lee Newby (Grand Hotel, Dogfight), lighting designer Joshua Carr (Hangmen, West End) and Offie Award winning West End Choreographer Alistair David as movement director. This promises an exciting and provocative presentation of Berkoff’s masterful writing.
Show Opened: 6th Oct 2016
Booking Until: 5th Nov 2016
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 6.45pm
Matinees: Thursday and Saturday 3.00pm