The Mourning Party

Sun 14th – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Julia Chapman

at 11:21 on 28th Aug 2011

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Three strangers meet at an Indiana bar on the night of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. One is an unhappy housewife, another an unsatisfied CPA, and the third a failed actor. In Anna Forsyth’s excellent piece of new writing a story of lives colliding makes for an intelligent and riveting experience.

The play began brilliantly, with the three individual lives overlapping in an astutely directed scene, each character carrying out their separate conversations, with their words unknowingly answering each other. In particular, when the three are going about their daily activities and the breaking news of Kennedy’s death is broadcast on their respective radios, their reactions simultaneously taking place in their three separate lives wonderfully come together in a moment of shared horror. When the three actually meet for the first time, the action began to drag ever so slightly slightly, as the focus turned to conversation and the troubles that had been shown to us were then expressed gradually in speech. Despite this change, the skills of the actors maintained our interest.

Euan Forsyth, George Ronayne and Abby Gorton were all excellent in their roles. The males in particular stood out, as Gorton’s awkwardness was stilted in conversation with others, though her monologues assured that her emotional predicament was fully realised. Euan Forsyth’s drunken actor was not played as a common stereotype. Forsyth imbued the character with a humanity that made his mourner three-dimensional. Ronayne, cloaking his character in an understated uneasiness, was also superb. The accents were exceedingly convincing as I was sure that this was an American cast, only to discover that all the actors are English.

Little was required of the set, merely a couple of gingham-clad tables and some bottles of Jack Daniels. The consistently humming fifties tunes in the background at the bar was a nice touch, but the music could have afforded to be more audible.

The Mourning Party contained amusing modern interjections referencing the birth of Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan’s acting career. The scene in which the Ronayne’s CPA receives a certain sexual act from an unseen girl was played with touching humour, and Ronayne handled the tricky situation with great skill. The pouring of Jack Daniels even became funny, and Forsyth and Ronayne made a good comic pair. Even in a sombre play, touches of humour were scattered throughout, were used sparingly enough to avoid seeming forced.

The plot device of a respected president’s assassination allowed the unlikely friends to come together seamlessly. The three characters wistfully reminisce about ‘Jack’ as though he were an old friend, and Forsyth’s monologue directed at Kennedy is pathetically poignant.

At the end, when ‘Jack’s Club’ agree to meet again, I wholeheartedly wanted to see them reconnect a month later, to see if any of the subtly hinted romance between the woman and the actor developed, and to see how the friendship was to establish itself. Of course, when this wish was left unfulfilled, I knew there was no other way the play could have ended, but I was enraptured enough in the characters’ mundane lives to hope they would give us more.

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Alexandra Sayers

at 12:18 on 28th Aug 2011

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‘The Mourning Party’ opens with Mourner 1, played by Euan Forsyth, entering an audition. He gives answers to questions that we haven’t heard, and yet we are positioned in the theatre-space, the interrogator’s chair. We become one with the enquiring spotlight, given our own role but not quite sure what it involves yet. This continues when all three characters occupy the space at once, but with no mutual coherency between their speeches. Again, the audience seem to be the melding fabric holding the performance together. This works remarkably well, as instead of hiding, it exposes the fragility of each character, and the thin, spidery threads that tenuously hold the three together. We become the only constant throughout the play, which makes for a highly original take on the role of the audience.

The play really gathers up momentum when all three characters meet in an Indiana bar, and stay drinking there for the whole day, reacting to the assassination of John F Kennedy. Before this, each character is given a monologue, which works in varying degrees. Forsyth’s portrayal of a drunken would-be actor is spot on: at once comic and pathetic, the loneliness clings around the street lamp he has collapsed under. George Ronayne’s monologue is pitch-perfect, dealing with a character in a compromising position attempting to make small-talk. My problem came with the character of Mourner 3, played by Abby Gorton. Gorton’s acting abilities are not in question here: she hones in on the 1960s American house-wife with real credibility. Rather, it was the tried, slightly clichéd character of lonely house-wife whose father was an alcoholic and who professes not to drink but - surprise, surprise - she pours spirits down her throat like the biggest drinker in Indiana. I thought this slightly let the show down: with the other mourners being so originally crafted, it seemed a shame that the woman seemed to become a prototype. The scenes at the bar, however, almost completely wash all reservations away, as the interaction between the three becomes more and more interesting, riddled with slow looks and quick gestures, and a lotta drink. Funny interjections are made that straddle two eras, both 1960s America and modern day America: Mourner 1 considers running for office, but dismisses it with the ironic ‘Who’d vote for an actor, right?’. In the wake of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s terms in office and rumours of Matt Damon running for President, this comment highlights how absurd modern America seems to have become: perhaps writer Anna Forsyth even suggesting this is as a direct consequence of Kennedy’s assassination.

The best line in the play for me was Mourner 1’s blunt advice to his one-time drinking partners, ‘Start living your life’. In a play whose title played with death, and which had the stark cut-off of life permeating through every scene, this statement seemed to stand out more than any other line. For the mourners, as well as for us, life goes on; even if people are killed and plays end.

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