Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song is a comedic, yet surprisingly tragic exploration of what lies under the surface of seemingly ordinary suburban lives – an engaging and almost voyeuristic look into the gradual breakdown of demolitions-man Ned (Noah Liebmiller), and the affair between his wife Joy (Hannah Raymond-Cox), and their neighbour, Dale (Louis Catliff). Being familiar with the play, I was highly impressed with how well co-directors Alexander Gillespie and Jamie Jones, and their cast, added even more amusement and dimension to the already rich characters and themes of Butterworth’s lesser-known work.
The limited stage space in the Barron theatre was cleverly used to generate the notion of claustrophobic suburban life on display, accented by a well thought-out soundscape and several uses of projection, comprised of both video clips and intertitles edited to a very high standard by Gillespie. Apart from the occasionally slow tech cue or scene change and issues with actors finding their light, there were few obvious errors, which speaks to the dedication and professionalism of the cast and crew.
Furthermore, the many facets of a play both thought-provoking and downright hilarious were brought forth excellently by the Parlour Song cast. Both Liebmiller and Catliff were brilliantly hilarious in their near-slapstick presentations of the play’s many amusing moments, most notably in the exercise scenes between Ned and Dale. Catliff is most memorable for how amusing his Dale was, and how well he handled his many monologues, but I was particularly impressed with Liebmiller’s Ned. He gave a performance that encapsulated, amongst other things, eccentric exchanges with Dale, a withered and pathetic aura around Joy, and a moving and at times startling presentation of Ned’s progressive breakdown.
Joy was also given depth and richness by Raymond-Cox. It would be easy to dismiss her character as a frustrated, adulterous housewife, but instead subtle shifts in tone and body language, not only highlighted the contrast in Joy’s relationships with Dale and Ned, but also added a deep-seated dissatisfaction and something akin to quiet exhaustion to Raymond-Cox’s performance, even when Joy uses her sexuality to exact power over Ned and Dale. From her very first moments on stage, I couldn’t help but feel for Joy, despite not condoning her affair with Dale. Whilst I thought that Liebmiller could have sounded more out of breath and unfit when both exercising and telling the story of Ned and Joy’s honeymoon, and that both Catliff and Raymond-Cox could have been a little louder, such small criticisms show how the cast’s performances were overall of a very high standard.
Gillespie and Jones’s production of Parlour Song sets the bar high for this semester’s Mermaids productions. The cast were a joy to watch, and I particularly appreciated the high attention to detail in all aspects of this show. I very much look forward to seeing the future endeavours of all involved.