>LOVE IN THE TITLE by The Abbey Theatre

>reviewed by adele tan

>date: 7 jun 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: victoria theatre
>rating: ****

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.

>>>>>women in love

When I first read the write-up in the Arts Festival Guide, I was expecting a sober and rather lugubrious piece of Irish theatre, with the sort of gravity you would find in a Joycean novel. Indeed, the guide states: "A play about reconciliation between generations, about the certainty of the past, the unpredictability of the present and the unknowability of the future." Certainly this weighty aphorism still stands as the central theme of the play but nothing prepared me for the fast, spirited and funny repartee between the three women on stage. True to its title, the play is a warm, hearty take on the different stakes on - and states of - love rather than a heavy philosophical treatise.

The story takes place in the grassy fields of County Limerick, centered around a large remnant of a Druid stone, which is wonderfully evoked by a excellently crafted naturalistic set but done with such playful whimsy, the atmosphere is delicately surreal. As it is, with a clever temporal twist the play brings to view simultaneously three distinct time periods and collides three women of three different generations by conflating 1932 and 1964 into present-day 1999. Cat (Karen Ardiff) still lives with the consciousness of herself as a twenty year-old in 1932, while her daughter Triona (Catherine Walsh) is a 30 year-old suburban housewife in 1964 and her granddaughter Kate (Ingrid Craigie) is a 37 year-old PhD student in 1999 with a penchant for painting landscapes and writing novels with 'Love' in her titles.

>>'LOVE IN THE TITLE is a refreshing breath of fresh air to the theatre scene here'

As can be expected, the collision brings about confrontations and issues amongst the three women who live their lives with expectations, attitudes and experiences that are at odds with each other's. The three play a roulette of skeletons in the closet with emotional ruptures and revelations that threaten to push each woman away from the others. The temporal, affective and intellectual disjunctures are manifest in the differing perspectives. Cat is a wild, brash and gregarious lass mired in her romantic but Catholic ideals and popular street mythology. Triona is of stiff, middle-class pragmatism and mores who turned cold on her husband and her back on her youthful ideals. Kate is single but has a sexually active lifestyle which both elder women frown upon. She also carries a chip on her shoulder that her birth caused a silent divide between her parents. These three women may be Irish and their Irish colloquialisms are sometimes alienating- the organizers even had to issue a glossary of Irish terms- but the themes and issues brought forward have salient pertinence for the local audience and strike a common chord with women who have had to live with the other women in the family before their own time.

The play could have easily lapsed into a pedestrian family drama, dragged down by contrived, conventional tropes, female angst or didactic male-bashing. Yet most of it was kept buoyant and charming by award-winning playwright, Hugh Leonard's liberal dose of verbal wit and humour, like the token 'how many (Irish) men to screw a light bulb' joke. One is often rewarded by understated insights thrown in-between laughs and his script brims with intelligent observations, held together by a premise that "life has to be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards", showing us that we have to acknowledge our debt to the past and not try to pre-empt the future. Much credit goes to the three-woman cast for sustaining the chemistry in their relationships and the energy levels that would have otherwise been sapped by the rather wordy dialogues. Victoria Theatre is a large space to perform in and yet the nuanced and tight acting kept the evening's feel intimate and endearing. Karen Ardiff held most of our attention, sending us into fits of laughter as the spunky Cat who played a nasty, ribald prank on her uptight and frigid daughter by flashing her tits to Triona and chasing her around the fields with them.

LOVE IN THE TITLE is a refreshing breath of fresh air to the theatre scene here from the usual slew of concept-driven performances and physical theatre. Its approach may be more or less traditionalistic but that does not detract the play from its quirky but quality lines and top-rate acting.