I went last night to see ‘The New Electric Ballroom’, a play by Enda Walsh, in the studio space at the Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England.
It’s about three sisters in a small Irish port, doomed to relive and pass on their emotional and sexual regrets forever.
Some very dense and challenging text, beautifully performed, sometimes left my brain racing unsuccessfully to keep up with the cocktail of longing, pain and unrealisable dreams.
The production was billed as a comedy, but frankly it is far from being a feelgood play, despite some irresistible laughs here and there.
It is, however, a tale which reminds one of how lucky one is not to have lived out the decades we are allowed on this planet in such stultifyingly confined surroundings as these, imposed by what was, at the time of the sisters’ youthful memories, a strictly Roman Catholic and over-moralising society.
Empathetic and convincing performances by Vivien Kerr, Barbara Gardiner, Samantha Powell and James Moore drew us inexorably into the sisters’ memories and pain, the visiting fishmonger’s male vulnerability, and ultimately into the futility of dreaming that their circle of frustration could be broken.
Charles Compton’s sensitive, economical direction gave the actors the space they needed to develop and express difficult characters, framed in a set with just enough furniture and props to locate us in time and place, without cluttering our minds with unnecessary detail.
It can hardly go unnoticed that this is another play about ‘Three Sisters’ – but whereas Chekhov’s lasses look forward in vain to returning to Moscow, these sadder, older maids can only gaze backwards at what might have been.
This morning I sensed that I might find myself thinking back through this haunting, sometimes poetic, sometimes shockingly and deliberately banal story, for some time to come.