DUSK RINGS A BELL
by Stephen Belber.
Palace Theatre To 1 September 2011.
Runs: 1hr 20min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 1 September.
Elegiac title for compact elegiac piece.
There’s both space and confinement in Stephen Belber’s play, perfectly reflected in the three performances at Watford Palace where Steven Atkinson’s production washes up – having started early last May at the annual High Tide Festival in Halesworth.
As people, Molly and Ray are poles apart. “I’m not one of those people who has difficulty communicating,” she begins by telling the audience. Twice; as she returns to the rural backwater she knew as a teenager, a quarter-century ago.
Ray has stayed where he began, and similarly sits a long time silent during her narrative. Molly’s folk rented a home by the reedy water; he’s from the caretaking class. He briefly seems to have the upper hand, having caught her breaking into the house she used to rent. She offers to pay for damage to the window, and can afford to; unsurprisingly, especially given Katherine Kingsley’s moto perpetuo delivery, she’s a successful PR person.
Even there, her boss does the big bits; she fills in the nuts and bolts. As she does during this encounter, where she’s touching 40, back at the place where she and Ray were very briefly teenage lovers. Space and constriction meet in takis’ set, a jetty suggestive of water beyond, with tall reeds surrounding them in an enclave. In Watford, action and audience are together on the Palace stage, its high, wide space subliminally present beyond the small acting area, with the characters never seeming to come from far away.
Molly’s communication skills are tested across the wide personal gap within their physical proximity. Paul Blair’s Ray slowly reveals himself, both in slow monologues contrasting her free-flowing speech, and in dialogue. And gradually a secret is dredged-up from that past-time, the result of fear rather than aggression.
Atkinson’s approach reinforces the idea of this as a mood piece, an elegiac piece of memory made unsettling by the grit of guilt. Demanding in its mix of soliloquised reflection and recall through dialogue, it’s a minor piece, but catches a moment secluded from the general run of its characters’ lives yet closely bound with who they were and are.
Ray: Paul Blair.
Molly: Katherine Kingsley.
Director: Steven Atkinson.
Lighting: Matt Prentice.
Sound: Steven Mayo.
Music: Tom Mills.
Voice: John Tucker.
Assistant director: Rob Drummer.