What is it about the name Alice? Somehow it’s a name frequently seized on by dramatists and film-makers alike to describe a particularly individual kind of woman, from the feminist musical revue A… My Name is Alice and Woody Allen’s Alice to the wilful seductress of Patrick Marber’s Closer.
Now, as the title suggests, Tom Murphy’s Alice Trilogy contains three short scenes from the life of another woman called Alice, revealed in snapshots taken of her at three different time frames and in three separate locations. I would, in turn, prefer to be able to proffer my star ratings based on each scene rather than the entirety, for after the first two scenes I was ready to pronounce a dismal one star rating to each; but the third actually warrants a full four stars. Since the first two, seemingly interminable, scenes take place before the interval, and the third after it, this isn’t so much an evening to leave at the interval (which would indeed be tempting) but only to arrive for then to ensure a truly satisfying evening.
On the stage each act's passing of time is noted in a projected date, while on the page, the printed script titles each act with the location of its setting. So we observe Alice, first of all, In the Apiary, set in 1980 in an attic room where she converses with a kind of ghostly figure, very probably her own disturbed subconscious. Then in 1995, she meets up with a former flame of 21 years By the Gasworks Walls; before the play culminates At the Airport in 2005 where she has come with her husband on a horrible piece of family business.
It's only in the third part that there finally seems something truly at stake, that there’s a real loss to accommodate - not merely motor-mouthed self-indulgent angst - and suddenly a proper drama starts to ignite. True, it’s still mostly an internal one, played out – like the rest of the play - on the loop of Alice’s constant incantations of her own confused emotions. Earlier, these were of her needs and wants and regrets and mistakes, but now, she’s become sealed off for a tangible (and heartbreaking) reason.
This intense yet mostly static, fragmentary play is staged with a meticulously precise formality by Ian Rickson that, like the plays of such Royal Court luminaries as Samuel Beckett, Caryl Churchill and Sarah Kane, is driven as much by the words as a pervasively cultivated atmosphere of impending dread.
Juliet Stevenson brings serious commitment and conviction to the title character’s journey throughout, and even if the writing keeps you at a distance from her earlier on, her predicament comes to shattering life by the last searingly-acted scene. The other excellent actors, who include Derbhle Crotty and Stanley Townsend, are too little used but provide selfless support to Stevenson’s tour-de-force.
- Mark Shenton