This review appeared on The Glasgow Journal‘s website on Friday 23 March 2012. Limbo was performed in the Citizens Theatre’s Circle Studio on March 8-10.
A one-woman play set at a lake-edge and focussing on a girl’s relationship with a much older man sounds three things. Predictable, depressing, and overwhelmingly female. And debuting on International Women’s Day doesn’t help.
But the audience gathered at the Citizens Theatre for the opening night of Limbo had apparently not got the memo. In fact the assembled crowd perched on the raised benches surrounding the theatre’s Circle Studio included a surprising number of men. Granted, they may have been the actress’ friends – she graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the summer – but they actually seemed intriguingly interested.
The play stars Lynn Kennedy, the Citz’s Actor Intern, in the solo role of Claire, a 17-year-old meat-factory worker whose life follows the 9-5 routine and disappointing nights out with the girls, but departs from normalcy when she falls for an older man.
Kennedy’s first appearance as Claire – in her pyjamas and slumped in an armchair with a stealthily protruding teddy-bear underneath – does little to discourage the chick-flick factor. But as soon as she begins to speak it becomes apparent this is no average kitchen-sink soliloquy.
With a script of only 45 minutes in length and a heavy onus on its actress to inject any kind of feeling into the diary-like narrative, Kennedy’s first words as Claire are straight in with an important metaphor. Her declared fear of water hangs in the air as the play unfolds and wave after wave of realisation washes over the audience.
Gentle Claire’s naivety combined with her frantic teenaged energy endears her to us immediately, and our loyalty is constant as her nerve is tested by ever-mounting emotional pressure. Kennedy teases the audience with the prospect of getting beneath Claire’s mask-like chatter when at poignant moment she unexpectedly stops, or shouts, or spouts an achingly sad statement as matter-of-factly as if it were her shopping list.
Her pacing the set, animatedly recounting anecdotes with wild hand gestures, casual swearing and unintentionally hilarious asides enhance our fondness for Claire, yet no more undermine the dark that inhabits her mind than deny it.
Despite being close enough to encourage actor engagement – which usually solicits tensed-up refusal to enjoy the performance for fear of being picked out – the audience was gripped. One couldn’t hear a single giveaway sigh of boredom or see a single exchanged glance. All eyes followed Kennedy’s Claire as if they knew she just wasn’t the type; as if she were the kind of old friend with whom you could be comfortable in silence. You might be tempted to reach out and take her hand, and it wouldn’t seem at all inappropriate.
Declan Feenan’s linear narrative relies heavily on its actress to pick up on every change of mood. In this sense Kennedy is commendable, allowing the words to serve as a mask for Claire’s emotional reaction to the events that befall her while subtly allowing us to witness slips in her self-protective cheerfulness.
Her first words: “I think I’ve always been afraid of water,” hang hauntingly in the air, mirroring the audience’s experience as each new wave of realisation washes over. As Claire’s life becomes increasingly suspended she seems to shrink before one’s eyes, and it is difficult to decide whether she is riding the tide or struggling not to drown. At times it seems she is doing both.
The play’s two collided sets, the interior of Claire’s house and the shore of Camlough Lake where we leave her, perfectly embody the gradual disintegration of her identity, while music is used subtly to suggest place – including the club where Claire first meets her love interest. Domestic furniture appears at varying stages of sunkenness as the lake-bed swallows them up, cleverly hinting at Claire’s eventual fate.
The play itself, by Declan Feenan, was highly-rated when it toured to London, York, Colchester and the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007-8, and was chosen for Kennedy by herself and new assistant director Richard Lavery. The resulting production is an impressive testament to both.