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Regolith

Chris Lee
McMac in association with Neil McPherson for the Finborough Theatre
Finborough Theatre
(2010)

Publicity image

On a bare stage three black chairs are lined up against a backdrop of a large blue cloth of flimsy fabric. Two women enter, dressed almost identically, in black, hair scraped back from their unadorned faces, one older, one younger. In the background music is played, violins swell, but the setting is 'the wrecked, ruined rubble of the world.' The lines of poetry are spoken with fervour and obsession, and a blue light cuts across the stage to mark the scene changes. The actors paint each other's faces white with painful, deliberation.

If this description is already setting all your 'existential angst' alarm bells ringing then this is most certainly not the play for you. Chris Lee's Regolith springboards from a dysfunctional Mother and Daughter relationship beginning with the daughter's (Harriet Ryder) desperate attempts to strike out at her abusive mother (Janine Wood) and moving through scenes of disjointed memory, disconnection, distracted searching, and agitated need to find purpose, possibilities, love and ultimately hope in their relationship. This is all delivered with suitable heart-ache and mutual aversion despite their umbilical connection (not too mentioned heavy handed reflective costume choices).

The problem is that this text rich piece has all the poetry and none of the action that such a profound play requires. When Lee trusts his own interpretations the fragmented relationship has some moments of real truth but the Waiting For Godot sound-alike sections really grate on the viewer, and the static setting does nothing to enliven the language. Each scene blurs into another drop into the ocean of disparate cries and by the end not one but many of the audience members were seen checking their watches.

While Chris Lee's writing evokes some powerful images, Ken McClymont's direction of Regolith sends it right back to the drawing board. Despite the Godot pastiche at times, Lee has managed to find some subtle moments of self-deprecating humour, which McClymont fails to bring out of the text, leaving us with an unrelenting hour's worth of what ultimately feels like indulgent wallowing. And while Wood handles the complicated text with dexterity and confidence, Ryder never lets up with her range of agonised to hostile, leaving us only with a feeling of repetition and never growth. Sadly the only laugh was provoked by Ryder lying on the floor with arms crossed over chest, assuming the traditional corpse like position. Add in some expressive dance and we could have had all the angst-ridden theatrical clichés in the book.

Where Lee's existential search is for purpose and 'limitless possibilities', McClymont's direction takes the play along an already trodden road, and keeps the pace plodding. With imagination and creativity this piece could indeed find some interesting parallels and resonating images, but in this production it only hits home with how self-indulgent theatre can be.

Reviewer: Sacha Voit