My Brilliant Divorce

Angela Ryan in 'My Brilliant Divorce' by Geraldine Aron. Photo: Lisa Daly Photography

Angela Ryan in 'My Brilliant Divorce' by Geraldine Aron. Photo: Lisa Daly Photography

Angela Ryan in 'My Brilliant Divorce' by Geraldine Aron. Photo: Lisa Daly Photography

Angela Ryan in 'My Brilliant Divorce' by Geraldine Aron. Photo: Lisa Daly Photography

Angela Ryan in 'My Brilliant Divorce' by Geraldine Aron. Photo: Lisa Daly Photography

Angela Ryan in 'My Brilliant Divorce' by Geraldine Aron. Photo: Lisa Daly Photography

“My name is Angela Kennedy-Lipsky and I used to be one half of Angela and Max, the world’s happiest couple.” The opening lines of Geraldine Aron’s My Brilliant Divorce, brought to the Draíocht Theatre by Jasango Theatre Company, initially seem to combine with the title to bolster the impression that this one-woman performance may not scratch too deeply below the surface of one of modern life’s most emotive experiences. But with 11 years of touring worldwide, including successful runs in the West End and London’s Apollo Theatre, and an Olivier Award nomination under its belt, this tale of starting all over again as a forty-something divorcée must be doing something right. Under the direction of Selkie Theatre’s founder and Artistic Director, George B Miller, Angela Ryan takes her turn as the play’s protagonist. She has big shoes to fill; since its first outing in 2001, Geraldine Aron’s quintessential divorcée has been played by comedy heavyweights and acclaimed actors such as Polly Draper, Dawn French, Deirdre O’Kane and Glenne Headly to name but a few.

As the house lights dimmed and Patrick O’Reilly’s lighting design focused on a cosy, warmly-lit set, we learned of how the “other half of Angela and Max” had earned himself the unfortunate nickname of ‘Roundhead’. An anecdote about how, as love fades, things that once were considered endearing quickly become intolerable, such as the shape of someone’s head, is a well-worn tale but one that is familiar enough to allow the audience to warm to the character and identify with Angela's plight.

In her portrayal of herself as a middle-aged Irish woman living in modern day London, we initially see Angela Kennedy-Lipsky as a weak, cosseted thing whose career as a window-dresser is long behind her and her only child has grown up and run off with a ne’er-do-well. Her husband has also run off – with a young Mexican woman called Rosa, as she is informed by housekeepers Mina and Lina. The glut of stereotypes in the play’s script is intensified by Ryan’s use of accents that see her take on eastern European cleaning ladies, an Asian medical student, an Irish mammy, an Americanised teenager, an Indian helpline operator, a British chav and a stiff upper-lip toff, to name but a few. The abundance of typecast characters in an otherwise warm and empathetic script seems unnecessary. Set in modern-day London, these parodies are perhaps intended to provide a commentary on the racial biases that still exist in the city – but in the context of the rest of the script, subtle references to wider social problems fail to hit home in any obvious manner.

Photo: Lisa Daly PhotographyThis aside, Ryan handles the role well. Her slight over-playing in the opening scene may be put down to the initial two-dimensionality of the character; Ryan seems to ease into the role in tandem with her character settling into her new life as a singleton. Over her near two-hour performance, Ryan’s character gradually morphs from two-dimensional divorcée into a woman who has been hurt and who has bounced back time and time again, becoming the kind of character with depth and feelings that the audience can relate to. This measured humanising of a character so seemingly clichéd could only be achieved by a strong actor, and for achieving this Ryan should be commended.

The set, designed by Michael Lavelle Schofield, features three suitcases suspended in mid-air as the focal point; she intermittently casts aside one piece of baggage to signify each year that has passed since her character’s separation from her husband. Although raw emotional scenes are few and far between, Ryan’s acting skills are malleable enough to elicit sympathy from the audience when it is required. But where she truly shines is as a physical comedian, making optimum use of her body and the props provided - which include chairs, Barbie dolls and a stuffed dog on a remote-controlled platform which is bizarre enough to induce laughter each time it whirrs its way onto the stage to provide comfort and companionship to its owner.

In one particular scene, a re-enactment of her first sexual encounter since her separation, Ryan throws herself onto a table, hoisting her legs in the air as she graphically – but comically – describes the scene. The attire that costumer Kate Scuffle has dressed the actor in works well with this type of scene. The loose fabric allows for ease of movement and a glimpse of bare calves whilst the muted pastel green colour provides a frumpiness that is all-the-better for shocking the audience with when this downtrodden, middle-aged character rediscovers her sexual appetite. Gentle titters from the audience quickly turn into howls and whoops once the topics of dating, sex and masturbation are broached and one gets the sense that this is heroine they have been expecting all along; a sort of modern-day Shirley Valentine.

Sheena Madden

  • Review
  • Theatre

My Brilliant Divorce by Geraldine Aron

Produced by Jasango Theatre
In Draíocht Theatre (on tour)

Directed by George B. Miller

Set Design: Michael Lavelle Schofield

Lighting Design: Patrick O’Reilly

Costume: Kate Scuffle

With: Angela Ryan