Pandora's Boxes

Denise O'Leary
Rosemary Branch Theatre
(2011)

Pandora's Boxes production photo

O'Leary's special take on the ancient Greek legend of Pandora, who was entrusted with a sealed box with instructions not to open it but did and released all the evils of the world, is a modern fable that she sets in an unnamed Eastern European country, emphasised in this premiere production by Georgian director Dimitry Devdariani by everyone playing with strong accents, but it also encapsulates half a century of so-called progress in our own society, here speeded up, for, as the playwright herself observed when travelling there, when the communist regimes of the eastern bloc were replaced by free market capitalism the same process happened there at breakneck speed.

When Pandora's husband brings home a new shiny, varnished box he doesn't want her to open it. It is enough to look at it for its own beauty. It is a man, a neighbour who comes round for a drink and a card game, who gets her husband to open it and find out what is inside: the bright new world of "Real Life" - full of things you don't need but, it tells you, that you must have. Husband (only Pandora gets a name) is at work so it is she who comes under its influence and wanting things leads to a job, a child minder and a predatory boss. Will she see the light before she wrecks their marriage?

O'Leary has written a succession of relatively short scenes. She is not trying to show character development or discuss ideas and this works in this pared down picture-strip style of story telling, especially brief scenes of husband and his mates in their colliery lift establishing a sharp contrast with the child-centred domestic scene, but, like so many directors on the fringe, Devdariani takes up time fading out between them to move furniture around. On just one occasion, when the wife says. "I wish the neighbour wasn't coming round," he leaves the lights up and simply brings the neighbour on. It works much better. The audience know that props are being removed or brought on: they will accept it, even when he introduces actors to stand stock still as shop display models. He already has the sleazy shop manager simply pressing his finger to mime switching on dance music; a gesture that builds into a running gag. Why doesn't he keep it all that simple? It works.

The characters are one-dimensional but the performances from this cast are far from cardboard. Margarita Nazarenko and Charles Church make a believable couple as Pandora and her husband (both handling their inanimate child as though he were a real boy), Jacob Trenerry is the neighbour who jealously wishes his own wife were more like Pandora, Richard Hold turns the shop manager a real smoothy and Victoria Johnston sharply differentiates Pandora's trendy sister from her short-tempered child-minder. Stu-Art James's outrageously camp coiffeurist is a bit of a caricature but worth a giggle and keeps within the stylisation of the staging.

Of course, real life, as opposed to "Real Life" is not anything like as simple as O'Leary's fable. Women had been forced by economic need or personal aspiration to work outside the home centuries ago, advertising and product promotion predate television and movie images glamorised products and different domestic lifestyle and in the US television and radio commercials were established in the US long before Britain got commercial television in 1956, and employers and mangers seeking sexual favours is scarcely a new development.

You can't blame television for everything but it certainly helped feed the materialistic consumerism of rampant Thatcherism and Tony Blair's New Labour, credit cards and instant mortgages. But that doesn't blunt the effectiveness of O'Leary's simplistic fable. It hardly needed spelling out to the older generation brought up to eschew the never-never salesman and without the white goods, televisions, hi-fis, computers and mobiles, car ownership and belief that homes are investments rather than places to live. Perhaps to those who have grown up with them this relatively brief entertainment could make them begin to wonder what they really need.

Later in the run the roles of Pandora and her husband will be played by Helen Armes and Eimantas Minkelis.

"Pandora's Boxes" runs at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 17th September 2011

Reviewer: Howard Loxton