Conversation with a Cupboard Man

Sickle Moon Productions presents 'Conversation with a Cupboard Man' by Ian McEwan.

Sickle Moon Productions presents 'Conversation with a Cupboard Man' by Ian McEwan.

Sickle Moon Productions presents 'Conversation with a Cupboard Man' by Ian McEwan.

Sickle Moon Productions presents 'Conversation with a Cupboard Man' by Ian McEwan.

This monologue piece produced by Sickle Moon Productions is directly taken from Ian McEwan’s short story of the same name. The story has much to recommend it for dramatisation: it is told in a strong first person narrative and the monologue form seems apt for a story that concerns a man who struggles to be heard but is unable to relate or to converse with others after a disturbed childhood wherein his Mother kept him as a baby until the age of seventeen.

These aspects are picked up well in this staging by Jeda de Brí, who directs Finbarr Doyle to give an assured, sensitive and well paced delivery as the surprisingly articulate solipsistic ‘man-baby’. Aoife Fealy’s design communicates well the man’s prolonged infancy and inability to care for himself by placing him on a high stool that hints at a baby’s high chair and clothing him in soiled pants and a disgusting brown sweat-stained shirt. In his lighting design, Eoghan Carrick emphasised the theme of containment that runs through the play by marking out a bare but claustrophobic shadowy space.

However, the overall style of this production was naturalistic and I believe this was to its detriment. The audience were cast as a social worker listening to this man’s sad tale while he remains largely static on his stool on the faintly lit stage. Listening to a monologue in such a naturalistic style allows for the audience to dismiss such a figure as a sad case or a freak. We are not invited to see ourselves in such a character, or dwell on the society that may produce such feelings in this man and in us.

Conversation with a Cupboard ManEven with Doyle’s solid delivery the character became insipid, too detached and surprisingly uninteresting even though his tale is so bizarre. In McEwan’s short story the world through this character’s eyes is made strange, cruel and grotesque. Such a vision should have been explored theatrically by de Brí as director. More movement of the character, greater use of the stage space would have helped to further engage the audience. The use of some coloured expressionistic lighting could have given deeper insight to the psychological state of this damaged individual and lifted the audience out of the ennui produced by the unchanging dim of the stage. A better exploitation of the theatrical medium would have helped us to empathise with this fascinating character rather than simply pity and easily forget him.

In the story the man speaks of performance and art repeatedly as a release for him, a means by which he can escape himself and his surroundings. He speaks of joyfully playing with a puppet theatre with his mother, of losing himself in dance whilst in a care home, and of the pleasure he got from telling tales to a deaf and mute inmate whilst he spent time in prison. But this escape and release does not seem to benefit the man but only aids him in his retreat into total solipsism, a means of returning to the state he enjoyed whilst in his monstrous prolonged infancy.

Here, then, the theme of art and performance as healthy for or harmful to man’s well-being is touched upon. Such a theme would have been more obvious in a more stylised production. Indeed it almost felt as though the description of the dancing was an implicit stage direction for Doyle to get off the stool and move about, or the puppet theatre section a chance to project some creepy silhouettes on the back wall; indeed the stool could have stood in for and been played with as the deaf and mute inmate. Ultimately and unfortunately, just like the grown man content to stay in the cupboard that was the subject of the piece, this production proved to be all too happy to stay within the confines of naturalism and was the weaker for it.

Dr. Ian R. Walsh is a Lecturer in Drama at University College Dublin and has recently published his first book Experimental Irish Theatre, After W. B. Yeats.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Conversation with a Cupboard Man by Ian McEwan

4 - 15 June 2013

Produced by Sickle Moon Productions
In Theatre Upstairs @ Lanigan's

Directed by Jeda De Brí

Design: Aoife Fealy

Lighting: Eoghan Carrick

With: Finbarr Doyle