Review: The Nest

Tempting though it might be to immediately suss Franz Xaver Kroetz's The Nest, translated by Conor MacPherson (The Night Alive), as yet another tale of a broken or soon-to-be broken family, it is actually about something much more interesting: the heavily material and deeply personal consequences of, and the desire for, parenthood.

The penultimate play in a series of eight identity-exploring “Vivid Faces” productions at the Lyric (with Three Sisters still to come), it features sturdy direction from Ian Rickson, a strong, moody, minimalist score by PJ Harvey (yes, that PJ Harvey) and a pair of exceptional performances from Caoilfhionn Dunne and Laurence Kinlan. 

What is instantly noticeable when we enter the Lyric Theatre's Naughton Studio are the slightly lopsided nature and detailed foundations of Alyson Cummins' set, the apartment in which married couple Martha (Dunne) and Kurt (Kinlan) reside. Beneath the slanted floor and before the audience's eyes rests a rocky, sandy bank, the shore of a lake which will become central to the story.

It's a distinctive touch, a strong hint of the changing attitudes and lack of stability in The Nest: the wise build their houses upon rocks, the foolish build their houses upon sand, and Martha and Kurt's marriage will be littered with extreme but exquisitely performed elements of wisdom and foolishness.

When we first cast our eyes upon and get to know Martha and Kurt, we learn that they're expecting a baby, but both are concerned about the financial toll it will take on them. It's not the work that worries them, but the funding. Still, Martha appears more prepared than Kurt: her thoroughness in working out which baby peripherals to buy is foreign, even irritating, to him, and he seems preoccupied by the wrong things, like getting the baby's name tattooed on his leg.

Two scenes in and already the immaturities and too-maturities of being an impending parent are being laid out; being too well prepared can be just as damaging as not being prepared. It's akin to what might happen if Jack Black and Sarah Silverman's characters from School Of Rock somehow got together, only for the musical, slobbish, shrewish and careerist stereotypes to be peeled away for something more nakedly emotional, close to home and down to earth.

A relatively stable, sometimes amusing and slightly unsteady journey later has its ante upped by the birth of the baby, whose presence is signified through skilled mimicry and sound design. The post-birth honeymoon period gives way to inevitable financial hardship, pushing Kurt into making a rash decision that may have potentially disastrous results for him, Martha and his new son.

Here, The Nest transcends its initial nature as an open air discussion and profession of needs and desires: its plotting, and eventual resolution, are dependent on individual and collective choices, actions and responsibilities. By wisely excising an interval, director Rickson maintains a high level of interest and at times unbearable level of tension, sparsely and relievingly broken up with bursts of sound, music and humour.

It's just the right home for Dunne's very interesting face; the actress has a natural gift for sly comedy and strong emotional investment. When she "carries the baby" in her arms, it's entirely believable. Kinlan, freed from the restraints of the Night Alive ensemble, is expressive to his maximum capabilities; there's a tremendous sequence in which he seeks escape from his mistakes. Credit is also due to assistant director Rhiann Jeffrey, the pointed, passionate humanity of her production of Mydidae coming through strongly in a marginally more open, but equally claustrophobic and turbulent scenario. One in which the audience certainly hope that Martha and Kurt will survive, such has been the overall investment in the lives of the humans inhabiting The Nest.

Simon Fallaha

The Nest runs in the Naughton Studio of Belfast's Lyric Theatre until 22 October. Photography by Steffan Hill.

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