Love in a Glass Jar | Ribbons

Chris Newman in 'Ribbons' by Elaine Murphy at the Peacock Theatre.Photo: Monika Chmielarz

Chris Newman in 'Ribbons' by Elaine Murphy at the Peacock Theatre.Photo: Monika Chmielarz

Michele Moran in 'Love in a Glass Jar' by Nancy Harris at the Peacock Theatre. Photo: Monika Chmielarz

Michele Moran in 'Love in a Glass Jar' by Nancy Harris at the Peacock Theatre. Photo: Monika Chmielarz

Plays in their short form can be tricky — tricky to write, and tricky for an audience to engage with. The key issue is time, and not as regards the length of the play: it’s more to do with ‘when’ we are brought into the story, than with ‘how long’ is this play going to go on. Of course, if the ‘when’ starts too late, then we are hampered by exposition; if it starts too soon, then there’s a rush to the denouement. In the first case, it can feel like we’re being assailed by bullet points; in the second, as though there aren’t enough layers to the piece to make it satisfyingly dramatic. A twenty-minute slice of time can yield an array of emotional reactions... or not.
In Elaine Murphy's Ribbons, there is a reveal of sorts that is meant to shock and surprise, and it does, but the air quickly goes out of the piece once we know what’s what. Murphy sets it up well – I won’t spoil it, it’s just not fair – and the permutations of a young man paying a visit to an older woman allows the mind to reel quite scandalously for the initial moments of the play.

Once we get it, though, it doesn’t really have anywhere to go but back into the past, and back-loading the narrative with back story serves to make the essence of the reveal itself, and how Glenda’s (Ruth McCabe) choices impact upon Lewis’ (Chris Newman) life, less interesting – in a situation in which there’s a whole lot more at stake than the estrangement between the two characters.

Nancy Harris, however, has got the time thing utterly and masterfully under control in Love in a Glass Jar. Again, we have to figure out what Eve (Michele Moran) is doing meeting Patrick (Arthur Riordan) in a posh hotel room. That both are not at their ease is quickly apparent, as is their relative unfamiliarity with each other, as is the fact that Patrick is tap-dancing around whatever brought him there, as is the fact that Eve really would just like to get down to business.

In fact, time itself (both ‘when’ and ‘how long’) plays as much a part in this exquisitely wrought two hander as does the needs and wants of its characters. And following from that, the needs and wants of the characters has everything to do with time, especially with its passing, and its annoying tendency to run on. Eve is setting herself against the clock, and Patrick, well, he would be as happy to have the years roll back, and maybe have the chance to do one or two things differently. In this briefest of encounters in a boutique hotel somewhere in Meath, we are shown a range of emotion and regret that we’d be lucky to see in a full-length play, much less one as short as this.

Oonagh Murphy directs both with great pace, allowing the small, subtle moments breathing room; her assembled team does well in all its tasks as regards costume, set, lighting, and sound. The staging is somewhat static, with little choice in Murphy’s piece to do more than sit at the table; at least in Harris’ piece, there’s an offstage bath that is primary to requirements and gives them somewhere to go. This is, perhaps, yet another challenge that time throws into the mix: how to get the characters to fully inhabit the space, and it didn't seem to have been addressed. The actors all know ‘when’ they are, but don’t seem to be comfortable in the physical ‘where’.

The six o’clock curtain seemed to suit more folks that I had imagined, which is terrific, should the Abbey seek to pursue this start time in order to continue showcasing short works. It’s also gratifying to get to see one acts outside of festival time, and to see work that’s been nurtured by the National Theatre get to see the light of stage.

Susan Conley is a cultural critic and author.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Love in a Glass Jar | Ribbons by Nancy Harris | Elaine Murphy

13 - 23 February, 2013

Produced by the Abbey Theatre
In the Peacock Theatre

A Double Bill of Short Plays:

'Love in a Glass Jar'
By Nancy Harris
With: Michele Moran and Arthur Riordan

By Elaine Murphy
With: Ruth McCabe and Chris Newman

Directed by Oonagh Murphy
Set & Costume Design: Lydia Concannon
Lighting Design: Eoin Stapleton
Sound Design: Derek Conaghy