Mouth to Mouth

Crooked House presents 'Mouth to Mouth' at Project Arts Centre.

Crooked House presents 'Mouth to Mouth' at Project Arts Centre.

Crooked House Theatre Company are developing a reputation for staging difficult and narratively layered and complex modern drama. Following last year’s very successful Breathing Corpses, they have now put their skilful hands to Kevin Elyot’s funny and tragic drama Mouth to Mouth, a play about the absurd respectability of the middle classes in the light of personal despair and loneliness.

Although there is fine ensemble playing on show, Mouth to Mouth essentially focuses on the existential angst of a playwright called Frank, played here by Nick Devlin who beautifully understates Frank and all his frustrations and pessimism. As if giving truth to Kierkegaard’s dictum that life can only be understood if lived backwards, Mouth to Mouth opens with Frank talking incessantly to Laura (Jillian Bradbury) - who, by contrast, says nothing but nods impressively and silently, her eyes covered by imposing dark glasses - then works more or less backwards from there. We have a sense that something tragic has happened but at this stage we’ve no idea what. In fact, we won’t know the exact nature of this tragedy until Mouth to Mouth returns to the opening scene at the very end of the play.

Joseph Paul Travers and Nick Devlin in 'Mouth to Mouth.'In between these two almost frozen moments that frame the drama, we are treated to a series of snapshots, mostly of Frank’s life and those closest to him. Most hilarious of these is Frank’s attempt to talk to his coke-sniffing gay friend, Dr Gompertz (Joseph Paul Travers), over dinner at a restaurant bespattered with celebrities. As we learn that Frank’s health is fast deteriorating, the good doctor, high on cocaine and self-obsessed, is mourning the fatal loss of a lover who has been hit by a bus and is no more.

The narrative giddily jumps from the restaurant scene with Dr Gompertz to an evening of drinks in Laura’s home in non-chronological fashion. At the drinks soiree, Laura’s son, Philip (Ian Armstrong) causes a stir when Laura accidentally discovers he’s had a tattoo of a girl’s name imprinted on his thigh while on holidays in Spain. The lightness of the dialogue and its humour serve to mask deeper and darker themes. Laura’s marriage to Denis (Patrick O’ Donnell) is on the rocks, while Roger (Steve Gunn) an old boyfriend of Laura’s has returned to England with a dizzy blonde Australian girlfriend on his arm.

Steve Gunn and Jillian Bradbury in 'Mouth to Mouth'.Clocking in at 75 minutes, Mouth to Mouth cracks along at a fair old pace, with a number of short scenes punctuated by a set transformation conducted in the semi-darkness, the scene changes delivered theatrically by figures dressed all in black. The minimalist, shifting set reminds us of how transient and changeable life is. In the blink of an eye, it can all change; passions can be released that transgress the code of control and respectability that otherwise strangulates. Slowly we realise that Frank has something to confess. The final scene at first appears to repeat the opening one but there are subtle differences: Laura now speaks hesitantly and with difficulty, for example.

A play that is full of surprises, Mouth to Mouth manages to entertain fabulously yet at the same time ask serious questions. Director Peter Hussey excels in his ability to tease out performances that require intricacy and boldness combined with subtlety. In particular, Laura and Frank’s roles require a variety of tones and Hussey’s direction brings out these tones with edge and knowing. As evidenced by Mouth To Mouth, Crooked House are developing a mastery of light and dark that is, at a formal level, a joy to behold even when, paradoxically, the subject matterof the drama is of very tragic proportions.

Patrick Brennan was chief theatre critic and arts writer with the Irish Examiner from 1990-2004. He is currently writing a book on the theatre of Tom Murphy.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Mouth to Mouth by Kevin Elyot

24 Aug - 4 Sept, 2010

Produced by Crooked House
In Project Cube

Directed by Peter Hussey

Set Design: Justin Kinehan

Lighting: Colm Ivers

Choreographer: Cathy O’Kennedy

With: Nick Devlin, Jillian Bradbury, Joseph Paul Travers, Patrick O’ Donnell, Ian Armstrong, Sophia Cadogan and Steve Gunn.