Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Hallelujah

Jane Bodie
Theatre503 and Pyre Productions
Theatre503
(2009)

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A businessman with sour assets has jumped from a hotel window. The debris is resonant and bloody: who clears up the mess when society is skint?

Jane Bodie's answer - offered as a part of Theatre 503's Rapid Write programme - is an intense and stifling piece that tackles death, deficit and the nation's pinched purse with bold finesse.

The waiting room of a funeral parlour: steel drinks trolley; licks of lilac paint; gaudy orange carpet and couch; no smoking signs and air fresheners. The mise-en-scène (conjured by Lorna Ritchie) is at once abundant and toxic. Ring a bell?

In the wake of Frank's suicide, his first wife, feisty Irish lover and estate-agent son gather to shirk financial responsibility. Ex-wife Brenda (Joanne Howarth) is a trouser-suited pragmatist. With subtle scheming and blunt talking she orchestrates a claustrophobic circus of grief: anger, blame and hurt skip about like bankers at a job fare.

Eithne and Martin are sent down memory lane and back again; guilt tripped into digging dip and coughing up. Manic, doleful and analogous anecdotes (the credit crunch subtext is never too submerged) are traded. Fits of dialogue - fractured and stumbling - convey well the discordant and muddled quality of grief. The usual skeletons - neglect, abortion, self-pity - plod out of closets as the action threatens to boil over.

Aoife McMahon as Eithne is a lady in the red: her dress, hair, manner and bank statements are all shades of crimson. She craves coffee, swears incessantly and hops around on one heel. Initially - quite like the play - McMahon struggles to find her feet. Gratefully, both actress and play soon find a bitter, temperamental and provocative stride.

The title of the play is oddly insignificant. At one point the characters debate which version of Leonard Cohen's famous song is worthiest. Mark Arends' Martin - at turns tortured, neurotic and nervous - sings half of the song sat alone on the couch. A woodwind version of the track is used as waiting room music. If the Hallelujah manifestations were extracted from the play nothing would be lost. Which begs the question, why give the song such an ample platform?

Written in three weeks, Hallelujah carries a feeling of emergency and haste. Denied the opportunity to dawdle, Bodie and director Gemma Fairlie have risen to the challenge of constraint. A production which avoids (on the whole) economic jargon or sermonic finger pointing, Hallelujah responds to a pressing issue with candour and skill. It is worth a punt.

Until March 28th

Reviewer: Ben Aitken