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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Absence of Women
Tricycle Theatre   Autumn 2011

In this import from the Lyric Theatre Belfast, two retired Irish labourers living in a London hostel fill the empty air with gab. They compare jobs they've had, pubs they've drunk in, damages that Guinness has done to their bodies and souls.

For much of the early part of the play the tone is comic - 'You know what I was thinking the other day?' says one, to which the other snaps 'Probably'. 

But gradually playwright Owen McCafferty darkens the tone, letting us see how the Belfast culture they grew up in shaped and limited their lives.

In a flashback, one remembers a girl in a pub inviting him to dance and his replying with something he remembered his father saying, 'Belfast men don't dance'. 

And all the things Belfast men of their class and generation didn't do – dance, talk, feel, face ways in which they differed from others – are just now beginning to creep into their conscious awareness, along with the hints of regret that they hadn't been able to live their lives differently. 

It's a deceptively fragile and delicate little play, then, and it is a credit to director Rachel O'Riordan and her two lead actors that they capture all its quiet virtues without becoming maudlin or heavy-handed. 

Peter Gowen takes us into the internal journey of the more open of the two, the one whose memory of that encounter with the girl is just beginning to make tragic sense to him, while Ciaran McIntyre shows us the strain of the one whose secret pain, which we catch a glimpse of in his flashbacks, must remain bottled up even now.

In their brief appearances Alice O'Connell sweetly depicts the sadness of a shy girl gathering up her courage to speak to a stranger, and Francis Mezza lets us see an ordinary Belfast lad already further along the road to a stunted life than he realises.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   The Absence of Women - Tricycle 2011

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