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The Furies/Land of the Dead/Helter Skelter (tour, Colchester Mercury Theatre Studio)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It’s not easy being a couple; third parties keep on getting in the way. It’s not easy either to write three short plays which consist largely of interchanges between two people at the end of relationships. There were moments during Neil LaBute’s trilogy – The Furies/Land of the Dead/Helter Skelter – when the difficulties seemed to take over from the drama.

The most moving of the three is Land of the Dead, the playwright’s response to the destruction of life in the Twin Towers attack. A young couple go to their morning appointments. His is a breakfast meeting. Hers is at an abortion clinic. Leaving after the procedure, she listens to his message on her mobile phone; too late, it offers her a choice.

Newest is The Furies. This is the only one of the three plays in which the characters are given names. Barry, a middle-aged man amicably separated from his wife and children, meets Jimmy, his younger male lover, to give him some news. Jimmy’s embittered sister comes too – and she’s the implacable, the jealous and the blood avenger all pursed into one tautly quivering body. Greek and Roman custom referred to the furies as the kindly ones or the good-tempered ones in an attempt to placate them and divert attention. The 21st century Manhattan incarnation is not open to conciliation.

Shopping at Christmas-time can be even more traumatic than tiring. Especially when you’re heavily pregnant and have just seen your husband locked in a more than fraternal embrace with your sister. Helter Skelter pulls death out of the gift-bag in a dénouement which would be shocking if we cared more about the people involved.

As in the tragedies of classic times, the audience is kept at a distance by both LaBute and his director Patricia Benecke. These are persons rather than people and all the efforts of the excellent three players could not persuade me otherwise. The exception being the girl who might have kept her child if she had listened sooner to her brash young lover’s message, sent as he looked out over the busy city far below him. These two young people are credible.

I don’t think LaBute likes women very much. Frances Grey is vituperative as the Harpy-fingered, granite-voiced Jamie, moving as the not-to-be mother and she almost makes a three-dimensional character of the two-dimensional wronged wife. Patrick Driver offers some fine detail as the two men faced with crumbling relationships and a complete inability to cope with them while Stuart Laing takes the opportunities offered by weak-willed Jimmy and the young executive suddenly brought to the realisation that crass and blokeish office banter doesn’t really carry over into life outside.

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