The Letter Project by Meantime Theatre Company

Young theatre company Meantime follows its assured debut production of The Good Father last year with a show structured around the idea of the letter as theatrical text. The production, which is performed at this stage as a work-in-progress, uses a series of anonymous letters, sought by and posted to the company, as the basis for an exploration into the power, beauty and insight of the written word. The idea, of course, is that – in an era of text, email and tweets – very few of us take the time to put pen to paper in order to express our thoughts. The piece is a showcase for the articulate, the pensive, the musing: all that our technological advances have perhaps driven us to leave behind.

Because of the workshop-like nature of the production, the cast of four sits centre stage in a semi-circle reading, rather than acting out, the words written in the letters. Director Maria Moynihan wisely allows the unexpected poetry of the texts to shine through: the actors are muted, sombre, never over the top, while the poetry is unexpected because these are ordinary letters written by ordinary people and one forgets, and is reminded here, of the beauty that can exist in the expression of the everyday.

The letters received by the company are clearly wide-ranging: one harrowingly accosts a father for a childhood destroyed by sex abuse; at the other end of the scale another vents rage at a clamping company; and another, never sent, tells a friend in prison of the depression that is beginning to envelop her.

But, interestingly, most of the letters read here are about love: love lost, love ended, memories and reminiscing, the ache of possibilities disappeared, the pain of an emotional rift, or struggle. One beautifully links each room in a house now being left behind with a memory from a relationship now left behind, while others, even though they are stand-alone letters, and do not receive a response, display a Rashomon-like ability to tell the same story in different ways.

The production is very simple and clear: at times the cast – Liam Heffernan, Una Kirwan, Paula McGlinchey and Ciaran Ruby – interweave and overlap as the members move from letter to letter, or read from the same text; at other times recorded, disembodied voices, including that of child Sadhbh Gash-Ruby, read the text instead. The effect is strong and emotive: it’s always riveting and illuminating to hear the inner thoughts and concerns of others.

The question is: where does the company take the project from here? Meantime looked for feedback after its show, some of which will inform the development of the production. Perhaps the decision needs to lie in considering the project’s reason for being. Is it a show about the power and art of letter-writing, and if so, is it strong enough to sustain the weight of a full theatrical production? Is it really the case that only a letter – and not, say, an email – can display consideration, honesty of emotion, and poetic insight? Frequently, perhaps, but not always. Meantime has started something here, but it remains to be seen if it can go any further.

Rachel Andrews is an arts journalist and critic based in Cork.

  • Review
  • Theatre

The Letter Project by Meantime Theatre Company

19 and 20 june, 2010

Produced by Meantime Theatre Company
In Cork Arts Theatre

Directed by Maria Moynihan

With: Liam Heffernan, Una Kirwan, Paula McGlinchey, Ciaran Ruby and Sadhbh Gash-Ruby.

Presented as part of the 2010 Cork Midsummer Fest: