One of my favourite things about the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival was that friends of mine who don't frequently go to the theatre saw some of the shows. The following review is written by David Heaton about 'The Author', one of the UBDTF shows that ran in Project Arts Centre.
I went to see The Author with very little idea of what to expect. There were inklings, sure: half an hour before the inaccurately-titled curtain up, I had a look for a synopsis, and found a review mentioning the walkouts that it provoked in Edinburgh, due to it's shocking nature. Shocking nature? Disturbing material? Oh, well: there goes the plan for the relaxing night out at the theatre.
On entering the theatre, it's immediately noticeable that this won't be like many plays that you see: where's the stage? All there is in the theatre is two banks of seats. The audience files in and glances around nervously - all the muttered foyer chatter has been about how shocking and disturbing the play will be, and this seating non-arrangement hasn't done anything to dispel that. Eventually we're all sat down, waiting for things to get going. And waiting.
Finally the silence is broken, and we assume that the play has started, as a member of the audience begins to rhapsodise about the wonderful thing that is live theatre, asking people's names and chatting away happily, but the air of unease doesn't really lift until music is playing loudly enough for people to converse without attracting attention, but the device of having the actors seated in the audience and just chatting away to draw people in begins to work. The play begins to jumps around between four characters.
The real treat to the production is the way that these four characters weave a gradually tighter and tighter web between each other, and the way that the play slides from light-hearted fun towards darker and darker themes: there are certainly sections that were very hard to watch (Esther's recreations were excellent, but I could feel my stomach turning through them). And that - I think - is the point of the play: we, as spectators, have the power to choose what we watch. We're regularly given little escape valves during the first half-hour: "Are you all OK?" and "Will I continue?" become a recurring theme as the downward slide begins, and there's always the suggestion that - if we don't like what is happening - it's all right to hold your hand up and leave the theatre. What you have to remember, though, is that should you stay in your seat, you will have to deal with the choice you made.
I could easily sympathise, though, with people who have paid for a ticket, and then leaving because they are unhappy with the material dealt with in the play. The counter argument is equally strong, though: you were warned that the play was likely to be disturbing; and you still chose to take the risk of buying a ticket. (Unless, like me, you were foolish enough to not read the background until half an hour before it started!)
In summary, The Author is deeply disturbing in places; but it is also well-crafted, fascinating and utterly compelling - not a play you're likely to forget in a hurry.