Monday, March 30, 2015

Review: Harper Regan

Harper Regan
Harper Regan by Simon Stephens

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I saw this in the bar at BLT: there were some terrific performances but the play itself was flawed and even inept in places.

Through a series of about ten encounters, the almost sociopathic heroine goes back to Stockport to see her dying father because she has never told him she loves him. Yes, the play is built on that most banal of clichés. She decides not to tell her husband where she is going: an illogical act that is never properly explained (she doesn't want him to follow her, but since nobody knows where she's staying she could easily have put his mind at rest without risking being found). She apparently loves him but is quite happy to disappear for two days, leaving the poor man frantic with worry. When she gets back, he happily accepts her perfunctory apologies and wedded bliss returns.

There are numerous mistakes and inconsistencies. Several characters comment on Harper's unusual name, but the story behind the name is never told. The first scene is a meeting with her boss – a man who is surreally creepy in a manner quite out of keeping with the rest of the play. One character is described as separated and is then revealed to have married again. Some workmen comment on the good weather, but ten minutes later the mother says the weather is clearing. Two characters suddenly go off on irrelevant racist rants for no apparent reason whatsoever; perhaps it's just the author's cack-handed way of telling us not to like them.

Some of the dialogue is vibrant and funny, but a lot of it is drab, low-energy murmuring that tails off into silence in unconscious parody of Ingmar Bergman. The vain, self-indulgent heroine is a terrific part (terrifically played in the version I saw), but the play's flaws in plotting and long periods of slow, boring musing about nothing at all make the whole experience a bit dull.

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Review: At Swim-Two-Birds

At Swim-Two-Birds
At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As James Joyce lay dying and reading At Swim-Two-Birds, he must have felt his heritage was in good hands. Things didn't quite work out for Flann O'Brien, whose literary output dwindled after his second novel, [b:The Third Policeman|27208|The Third Policeman|Flann O'Brien||3359269], was rejected (and only hailed as a classic after its posthumous publication).

At Swim-Two-Birds is surreal, nonsensical and at times infuriating. It's also hilarious, imaginative and beautiful. It weaves Joycean journeys around Dublin with invented Gaelic myths, some nonsense philosophy and a bizarre plot wherein the characters of a novel rebel against the author. During the struggle, their ally, the semi-mythological Pooka, magically dispatches the author, Trellis, through his bedroom window and floats down to join him on the pavement, observing:

To forsake your warm bed … without the protection of your heavy great-coat of Galway frieze, that was an oversight and one which might well be visited with penalties pulmonary in character. To inquire as to the gravity of your sore fall, would that be inopportune?

You black bastard, said Trellis.

The character of your colloquy is not harmonious, rejoined the Pooka, and makes for barriers between the classes.

It makes for a baffling yet appealing read, which is all the more enjoyable if read purely for the joy of the words. If you put the book down feeling you have understood it, then you haven't understood it at all.

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