A one-woman play set at a lake-edge and focussing on a girl’s relationship with a much older man fuels three impressions: predictable, depressing, and overwhelmingly female. And debuting on International Women’s Day doesn’t help.
But the audience gathered at the Citizens Theatre for the opening night of Limbo had apparently not got the memo.
In fact, the assembled crowd perched on the raised benches surrounding the theatre’s Circle Studio, included a surprising number of men. Granted, they may have been the actress’ friends – she graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in the summer – but they actually seemed intriguingly interested.
The play stars Lynn Kennedy, the Citz’s Actor Intern, in the solo role of Claire, a 17-year-old meat-factory worker whose life follows the 9-5 routine and disappointing nights out with the girls, albeit departs from normalcy when she falls for an older man.
Kennedy’s first appearance as Claire - in her pyjamas and slumped in an armchair with a stealthily protruding teddy-bear underneath – does little to discourage the chick-flick factor. However, as soon as she begins to speak, it becomes apparent this is no average kitchen-sink soliloquy.
With a script of only 45 minutes in length and a heavy onus on its actress to inject any kind of feeling into the diary-like narrative, Kennedy’s first words as Claire are straight in with an important metaphor. Her declared fear of water hangs in the air as the play unfolds and wave after wave of realisation washes over the audience.
Gentle Claire’s naivety combined with her frantic teenage energy endears her to the audience immediately, and their loyalty is persistent as her nerve is tested by ever-mounting emotional pressure.
Kennedy teases the audience with the prospect of getting beneath Claire’s mask-like chatter when at poignant moments she unexpectedly stops, or shouts, or spouts an achingly sad statement as matter-of-fact as if it were her shopping list.
Her pacing the set, animatedly recounting anecdotes with wild hand gestures, casual swearing and unintentionally hilarious asides, enhance our fondness for Claire, yet no more undermines the dark that inhabits her mind than deny it.
Despite being close enough to encourage actor engagement – which usually solicits tensed-up refusal to enjoy the performance for fear of being picked out - the audience was gripped. One couldn’t hear a single giveaway sigh of boredom or see a single exchanged glance.
All eyes followed Kennedy’s Claire as if they knew she just wasn’t the type – as if she were the kind of old friend with whom you could be comfortable in silence. You might be tempted to reach out and take her hand, and it wouldn’t seem at all inappropriate.
The play’s two collided sets, the interior of Claire’s house and the shore of Camlough Lake where we leave her, perfectly embody the gradual disintegration of her identity, while music is used subtly to suggest place, including the club where Claire first meets her love interest.
Domestic furniture appears at varying stages of sunkenness as the lake-bed swallows them up, cleverly hinting at Claire’s eventual fate.
The play itself, by Declan Feenan, was highly-rated when it toured to London, York, Colchester and the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007-8 before being chosen for Kennedy by herself and new assistant director Richard Lavery. The resulting production is an impressive testament to both.