THE APPROACH, Flightpath Theatre, 16 August-2 September 2023. Photography by Abraham de Souza: above - Sarah Jane Starr and Linda Nicholls-Gidley; below - Starr; below again - Lindsey Chapman
Irish playwright Mark O’Rowe is probably best known in Sydney for Howie the Rookie (first seen in Dublin in 1999 and for Red Line in 2016). Audiences are in for a rare treat, therefore, because O’Rowe’s The Approach (2018 and well received in Dublin, then live-streamed mid-Covid in 2021), is now to be seen in a very fine production at Flightpath Theatre.
The Approach is deceptively ordinary and therefore turns out to be extraordinary. In a plain dark space on either side of a circular mahogany table, which should be cosy but is just too big for comfort, two friends meet. Anna (Linda Nicholls-Gidley) and Cora (Lindsey Chapman) are in either a bar or a cafe, made apparent when one woman raises her voice to the other and then glowers at patrons who may or may not have turned around to stare.
May or may not, remembering and misremembering are the central core of their meeting – and of subsequent meets between Cora and her friend Denise (Sarah Jane Starr) who is also Anna’s estranged sister; then Anna and Denise: no longer estranged but strained.
Turn and turn about the inconsequential chit-chat of once-close friends, now virtual strangers, disguises then slyly reveals what lies beneath. Such banalities as “I love your bracelet,” or “Nice to have a bit of a moan on occasion,” are as spiky and treacherous as barbed wire. As each awkward get-together begins and ends – via comical repetition of common social clichés – the connections between the trio become clearer. Even as they grow ever more convoluted.
Anna’s late bloke is a cause of the sisterly alienation because Denise took up with him after they’d split up. Anna is still highly ticked off, even though she’d long been out of love with him, she admits to Cora, but surely there’s “some sort of rule” about that sort of thing. The nit-picky trivial nonsense that passes between the women heightens the quiet comedy that lurks in the shadows of antagonism, loneliness and bewilderment.
They are each, in their different ways, mistresses of the non sequitur and when not absorbed in the surprising depth of feeling and revelation, it’s laughter that constantly breaks out in the theatre. Deftly directed by Deborah Jones to maintain the physically static setting while setting off fireworks all around the room, the three give beautifully balanced, minutely observed and subtle performances. There are moments when a side-eye or sweetly-caustic pronouncement from Linda Nicholls Gidley conjure memories of the playful wickedness of Ruth Cracknell. For their parts, Lindsey Chapman is a poignant and effective foil for the other two and Sarah Jane Starr adds a raffish quality that sparkles and delights.
Altogether, what comes bubbling up out of the dark (made material by lighting designer Alex Holver’s minimal concentration of illumination on the table and the women) is an unexpected and continually surprising exploration of friendship and its extremes; love and lust and the points in between. The language – and the accents – are musical, idiosyncratic and somehow therefore, deeply Irish, and deeply entertaining.
At just 80 minutes The Approach is an irresistible combination of laughter, sadness, truth and deception, love and righteous fury. Whether you laugh with or at them will tell you a lot about yourself. Be prepared! Recommended without reservation.