Message heard loud and clear

Mark Nattrass as Ray and Jayne Lunn as Molly

Dusk Rings a Bell

The Old Joint Stock

*****

A BRIEF forgotten romance from teen years may not have shaped or influenced the lives of the summer holiday lovers of Stephen Belber's 2010 play but it was a little milestone, a minor reference point for two lives which have both lost direction in their journey through the years.

Jayne Lunn is Molly, a divorced PR executive in the Washington bureau of CNN, with a seemingly comfortable life who opens with a me, I, my self-centred, self-everything monologue telling us about how she once stuttered but told herself: “self – stop!” which self did as she gave up stuttering for screwing.

As a scene setter it is a scene in itself then up pops Ray, played by Mark Nattrass, a would be heart surgeon who ekes out a living as a caretaker for off seasonal holiday along with odd-job gardening.

The two have a past and from that past grew futures which are much different than those they dreamed about on an evening of romance on the lifeguard station all those years ago. 

Jayne Lunn gives us a Molly who exudes sexuality and vulnerability in a measured performance

Lunn gives us a self-confident communicator – a word Molly likes – who has decided to revisit her past not to find Ray – his return to her life is an accident – but to find a part of herself. She is completely believable, adding sexuality to the role of the late 30 something East coast successful, if somewhat unfulfilled, executive where sex is a recreational rather than emotional pursuit.It is only when Ray appears that the play really starts. Molly has told us all about her screwing, her husband, her boss - who she only screwed once - but we hardly feel anything for a woman who seems to have about the same depth as a coat of white emulsion.

Ray is altogether more complex, so much so he doesn't really understand himself and Nattrass beautifully portrays the careworn look of a man who has had more than his fair share of the world's troubles piled on his shoulders.

Back in 1985 Ray and Molly were merely necking with Ray fumbling hard for more – because that was what boys were expected to do.

A lifetime later the foreplay is more quizzical than physical as Molly probes and Ray is forced to reveal that his dreams evaporated when he was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

The reason still troubles Ray as he tries to figure out if he is a moral coward, hiding or sneaking away whenever a crisis appears, refusing to confront his own demons.

Almost inevitably with two characters who are both divorced and both now single, and who once shared a night kissing on the beach, they end up in bed, almost as if to consummate what they started a quarter of a century ago, and then head, their separate ways never to meet again, she to die of a brain tumour at 59, he set to die at 92 hoping to have the image and taste of the “girl with syrup lips” as his last vision on earth.

The ply has an even more interesting background than the characters with this production starting life in May 2013 at Highbury Theatre Centre to critical acclaim by our reviewer Jeff Grant (See here).

Mark Nattrass as Ray gives a studied portrayal of a man who is struggling to face up to himself, having abdicated responsibility for his life to fate long ago

It was enough to  decide director Faye Hatch and Jayne to start their own professional company – Lucky Arrow Productions – and this is their first venture into the altogether tougher uncompromising world of professional theatre.

Borrowing the stark set of bleachers and boardwalks from the Highbury production as well as the clever lighting and back projection this has been an impressive venture into the professional world. Lunn and Nattrass give exceptional performances - and accents that had a degree of authenticity - as the flawed couple, all helped by Hatch's clear direction. Keep it simple and no one, neither actor nor audience, gets confused. Apparently this production was her first time in charge and a more than creditable effort she has made of it.

It is a play which needs the intimate surroundings of a studio space to work and that, in turn, means actor have to create characters who can build an intimate relationship with an audience who are only an arms length away and Ray and Molly succeeded in that.

New ventures need to encouragement and it is a great pity that such a fine production opened to such as small audience at the OJS. It deserves much better. To 09-11-13 

Roger Clarke 

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