Maev Beaty as A. Photo Mirvish Productions.
Since Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus made its debut in 2007 at the Abbey theatre in Dublin, it has turned into a theatrical tsunami, leaving audiences wondering what hit them
This is exactly the feeling I had leaving the Royal Alexandra where Terminus has just begun its run in the Second Stage Series, several months after its Canadian premiere at the SummerWorks Festival in August where it played at the Factory theatre. Not having seen that first production I can’t compare the two performance sites but there is no doubt that the larger space of the Royal Alex could only have enhanced this amazing piece while, at the same time, removing the intimacy of that smaller theatre.
This play is an extraordinary encounter of theatrical insight, poetic language, and a violently heightened imagination, bred on the bloodiest images taken from Catholic mythology, contemporary urban culture, a Shakespearean feel for verse and demonology inspired by Neo Platonism filtered through Milton’s version of Lucifer as the fallen angel, that terrifying winged creature for whom O’Rowe has a particular predilection. Three actors alternating their individual monologues, become the poet’s mouthpiece. These death-fuelled story tellers modulate their voices steeped in murderous fantasies. They perversely twist around snippets of romantic poetry from Alfred Lord Tennyson; they echo the obsessions of American Psycho as we squirm deliciously in our seats. They give us a linguistic rush, so astonishing is the movement and twisted syntax of this text spewed out in breathless rhythms by each of these bodies on stage. O’Rowe’s poetic verse with its complex system of rhymes and changing rhythms, becomes an incantation that calls up the demon from the rotting, worm infested underground, reversing the order of the world and in his world, Dublin becomes the highlighted landscape of tortured souls where human monsters rise out of the urban filth as they take marvellous shape through the magic words of the poet.
It is all impeccably directed by Mitchell Cushman who has placed the players centre stage, backs to the theatre, looking at the audience sitting on the stage. The performers appeared propped up by two huge metallic wing-like shapes, as the texts has them sometimes planted on the streets, sometimes soaring above the city, carried away by this metallic structure that suggested construction machinery, sky scrapers , and heavy urban building material where physical movements are extremely precarious.
Maev Beaty, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow, plays her portion of the text with superb control, managing to extract a rich, lilting musicality from her flawless narrative. Her voice resonates, the rhythms flow, the Irish accent appears authentic, as she evokes the terrifying world of the female underground where Céline, the sadistic ringleader of women emerges as the nightmarish image of pain, persecution, and power that destroys young girls. As the voice of the mother, searching for the runaway Helen, Beaty ‘s monologue moves forward in rhythmic fragments as it constructs her troubled relationship with the daughter she drove away.
Ava Jane Markus was more difficult to understand, especially at the beginning, because her voice was much softer, her accent much thicker and she did not seem to emphasize the important structures of the text that would have highlighted the relevant parts of the story. Her character actually called up the demon that appeared as an echo to her anger and despair at being betrayed by her friends. This first appearance of that decomposing winged figure crawling with worms, pushed to her to the brink of the scenic design that had her teetering on the edge of a huge crane before being swept away struggling in the monster’s terrifyingly sensual clutches. This sadomasochistic contact that brought a whole new dimension to the text, revealed the way these repressed images of pain and anger were incarnated in this astounding language and the striking sound effects that literally assaulted the audience.
Adam Kenneth Wilson speaking the voice of “C”, the snarling human predator, tells us about his search for women, his angry encounters with men, his violent instincts and his final bloody encounter when he is impaled and disemboweled by the demon’s tail in an avenging rage. This mixture of bloody suffering and immense ecstasy brought about by slashing and strangling is not unlike the experience of religious martyr.
Richard Feren’s sound design and the team’s set design work magic as they bring the text’s hellish surroundings to life. This was especially clear when “C” , in the grip of the demon, was transformed into some flying creature imprisoned in those wire strips, like huge flapping wings, spread out around the lone actor. They cast enormous shadows across the empty theatre as the lighting effects highlighted each of the ribs of those giant appendages. They seemed to carry the actor away into a transcendent reality populated by shadowy human creatures, dancing against the upper walls and ceilings of the theatre , enclosing us below in a vicious all-engulfing trap. This visual effect was a breathtaking transformation of that empty theatre space, turning it into an essential part of the performance.
What awaits us in that final moment when the bottom falls out of the world and we go plummeting into nothingness? Terminus! A vibrating soundscape that made my hair stand on end. A voice in the dark refers us to Milton’s conflict between Lucifer and the forces of good, perhaps opening the way for some sort of redemption, but difficult to imagine in that unbearable psychic landscape of cruelty and bloodshed.
Given O’Rowe’s ferocious imagination and mighty gift for words, fuelled by an Irish world that has long been prey to much violence has been met head on by a production team that has let themselves flow with that Tsunami! The result is one of the most powerful performances I have seen in a long time.
This review is a slightly modified version of the review that first appeared on the www.scenechanges.com web site.
Terminus by Mark O’Rowe
Directed by Mitchell Cushman
Production design: Nick Blais
Sound design: Richard Feren
A – Maev Beaty
B- Ava Jane Markus
C- Adam Kenneth Wilson