This Lime Tree Bower is a 1995 play by Irish playwright Conor McPherson. McPherson tells his story by having his three main characters confess to us their inner thoughts through long, alternating monologues. Over the course of a week, we are privy to the lives of brothers Frank (Stephen Jones) and Joe (David Fennelly), and their sister’s boyfriend Ray (Peter Daley)- all of whom live pretty uninteresting lives in a small, unnamed seaside town on the outskirts of Dublin.
The strength of this play is not so much in what happens, but rather, in it’s complex characters and the eloquent way in which the story unfolds. Eoghan Carrick’s representation of McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower is beautifully simplistic, complimenting McPherson’s understated writing while bringing his own subtle personal take on the story to the fore. Through laboured monologues the three leads showcase the subtle melancholy, inherent in the plays main characters. Slow to begin with, this production builds as the actors become more comfortable and leads up to a triumphant end. It delivers a true representation of McPherson’s play.
Inside its theatrical space aptly named ‘The Cube’, the audience occupy seats to the right, left and directly facing the central space, all of which overlook the minimalistic set. Behind the scenes, many people contributed to the final production of this play; Stage management was handled by Jean Hally, lighting was designed by Eoin Winning, video design by Neil O’ Driscoll and the show was produced by Eoin Killkenny.
The set design of this production was executed brilliantly by Alyson Cummins. A window instillation with a video image of the sea stands at the very back of the space. This is a beautiful addition to the production, as the play unfolds, the image changes slightly and produces various amounts of light and is used as a visual marker for the progression of time. The costumes, also designed by Alyson Cummins, themselves were minimal and stood out to me as being uncharacteristic, the teenage Joe wearing a tie? Frank, A guy in his mid-20s, who works in a chipper, wearing a black suit and a white shirt? However, the thought process behind this became more apparent as time went on. The set consists of a naked kitchen table, bare, bar the beer bottles; Budwiser for Frank and Joe, Bulmer’s for Professor Ray. Glasses arrive along with the whisky which the cast continuously drink from, Frank and Ray more than Joe.
Above this, and the main source of light, was an authentic looking stained glass light fixture which reminded me of my own kitchen growing up. There is also four matching wooden chairs, one with a cushion. This chair remains ominously empty throughout the production. Initially I thought it was a representation of the deceased mother, but as the play went on I began to view this chair, situated at the top of the table, as perhaps symbolic for another character.
Coupled with Frank and Joes costumes and the whisky they share, as if participating in some kind of ritual, the play comes to its conclusion and Carrick’s representation becomes more and more apparent. As he recently stated in an interview with Pure M :
“McPherson explores our traditional attitude to storytelling, which probably comes out of our need to confess and to get it out into the world to absolve ourselves of guilt.”
A recalling of past events, a confessional of sorts and perhaps a nostalgic return home from abroad, adding greater depth to McPherson’s tale of a town ‘full of spoofers.’
This Lime Tree Bower under the direction of Eoghan Carrick, brings its audience on a journey, delivering impeccably timed humorous lines, which break up the ultimately heart-breaking and disturbing insights these unstable characters express.
McPherson’s play is written in such a way as the three main characters each speak in long alternating monologues, while the other characters remain on stage, quietly listening and subtly reacting to the unfolding stories. It is in this suitable reactionary process that David Fennelly (Joe) really shines. Having the first monologue must have been a daunting task for this young actor, who gives us an incredible insight into the racy mind of a teenage boy. However, he spoke naturally, almost blushing at the more awkward dialogue, which gave sincerity to his character. Peter Daly (Ray) spoke clearly and charismatically through his characters unapologetic form of “honesty”, which he ultimately utilizes to mask his blatant misogyny. Daly glided around the set with ease, his portrayal of the egotistical Ray certainly projected an atmosphere of deep distain, while simultaneously delivering some of the more humorous lines in the play. Stephen Jones’s first monologue brought with it a noticeable shift, he spoke significantly louder than Fennelly and Daly, which at first was slightly off putting, but I cannot fault the naturalistic way he portrayed this character. His familiarity with Frank was clearly evident and was the most natural casting.
McPherson is known for his mastery of storytelling, and this production does not disappoint. A great emphasis is out on how the actors deliver their lines in order to effectively convey the sincerity of emotion; whether that be sadness, happiness or nostalgia. Carrick’s production of This Lime Tree Bower has its own subtle charm, emanating from both its set design and the professionalism of its cast who negotiate long monologues with extraordinary ease.
This Lime Tree Bower runs from the 18- 27th of February at The Project Arts Centre.