Perhaps the small, unassuming space of the Harrogate Theatre Studio, sparsely set with no more than a perspex table and chairs, seems an unlikely place for tragedy. But Dialogue Productions’ latest offering, a trilogy of short pieces from award-winning playwright Neil LaBute, eloquently reminds us that tragedy can unfold in the most mundane places with the most ordinary people as its players: the man sitting next to you in a restaurant who turns out to be dying, the woman you pass on the street secretly trying to make the impossible decision to abort her baby.
Thankfully, there is also plenty of room for laughter, especially in the opening piece The Furies, in which the pathetic Jimmy (Stuart Laing) takes his nightmare sister (Frances Grey) along to what essentially becomes a break-up date with Barry (Patrick Driver). Even though we quickly find out that the latter is dying, it’s hard to really feel pangs at one’s heartstrings when Laing’s take on Jimmy is so heavily camped-up that at many points he seems milliseconds away from actually squealing. The undeniable laughs aside, it can only be a good thing that his pantomime dame is balanced out by Patrick Driver’s more soberly-handled performance, who with a gesture as subtle as the hitching up of his trousers as he sits down, creates a perfect picture of the sophisticated, somewhat older gay man who’s seen it all.
Land Of The Dead is a distinctly more serious piece, with the two halves of an unnamed couple speaking directly towards the audience as they each narrate their side of the decision to abort their baby. The man (Stuart Laing) with his casual, hands-in-pockets cockiness seems to make a victim out of his doleful girlfriend (Frances Grey), until the rather heartbreaking moment in which he leaves her a voicemail, haltingly telling her that she can “keep the baby if you want”. Sadly, she only hears it after she’s gone through with the procedure – and before he dies as a victim of the September 11th attacks. The piece is a swift and effective snapshot of the ever-shifting dynamics of a relationship, and a powerful study of mourning and regret.
The final segment, Helter Skelter is chilling in its normalcy, as a heavily pregnant wife (Frances Grey) informs her husband (Patrick Driver) that she’s caught him having an affair. The balance between tragedy and farcical comedy here is found in the need to remain civilised in public while having an emotional break-down, and it is here that Grey absolutely excels with her barely-contained hysteria and the most sinister of smiles. The ending is a climax which suitably ends the trilogy, but does trip somewhat over that very fine line between dramatic tension and melodrama.
All in all, the production is a successful one, although picking a selection of short pieces does have its limits. There is no sense of past or future as we are just thrown into the moment, which is at times bewildering – and not necessarily satisfactorily so. However, the actors all excel in the delicacies of performing a range of characters, and director Patricia Benecke does have to be commended for her expertise at creating the uncomfortable feeling of palpable dread that something might be lurking around the most unsuspecting of corners.