The Alice Trilogy

Tom Murphy
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs
(2005)

Juliet Stevenson in The Alice Trilogy

Veteran Irish playwright Tom Murphy's latest play features three unhappy scenes from the life of Alice, an ordinary woman all too far from wonderland.

Under the direction of Ian Rickson, Juliet Stevenson gives a masterclass in acting, mysteriously ageing immaculately from an acceptable 25 through to perfect 40 and 50.

The first part, set in 1980 is called In the Apiary. Alice is the mother of three young children and feels trapped by her conventional life. She lives with husband Bill, a boring banker on the way up, and has no outlet for her creativity.

Tom Murphy has cleverly created an interesting structure for the portrayal of a sadly mundane life. Alice goes over her problems with an alter ego, Dearbhle Crotty's Big Al. This device allows two facets of a woman to debate. In fact, Big Al largely draws on a deep Catholic tradition, acting as a catechistic inquisitor. However at times, she can also be a Mephistophelian temptress.

This outlet is much needed by Alice who has become too fond of drink and prescription drugs and is so desperate for company and excitement that she even makes a mild pass at her ageing next door neighbour for the kicks.

In By the Gasworks Wall, time has moved on fifteen years and Alice is a little sunnier. She has contrived a meeting with Stanley Townsend's Jimmy, an old flame from teenage years who has become a well-known TV presenter. This is an opportunity to live out a fantasy, seemingly harmlessly as each is fairly happily married with three children. By the end of this longest part though, life has turned sinister and the pleasure of happy fantasy can never return.

The most poignant part is the last, At the Airport in which Alice and Bill (John Stahl) wait at an airport cafe. As the now affluent banker tucks healthily into his fish and chips, Alice delivers an increasingly desperate interior monologue that eventually leaves her crying mascara-black tears.

Alice's incipient loss of a grip on her mind and life is sad but becomes understandable as she gradually reveals the reason for their wait. The couple are not off to a Caribbean second honeymoon but awaiting the coffin of their dead son, the only one of her children for whom she had any real feelings. The loss of young life makes Alice feel even more strongly how disappointing her own has been.

This trilogy slowly builds to an unusual, fragmented portrait of an ordinary woman who might be seen to epitomise her age and class. Miss Stevenson is very moving in the leading role. Where The Alice Trilogy really scores is in the whole (writer/director/star) team's collective ability, in just two hours, to create a woman that you feel you know and suffer for, almost like a close friend or family member.

Philip interviewed Tom Murphy during this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher