There’s something wonderful about the world premiere of a play being held in Belfast. We might be on the perifphery of things, but that doesn’t mean that the arts don’t find their way to our wee corner of the world. There’s also something wonderful when home grown talent Marie Jones decides to choose Belfast’s Lyric Theatre to introduce her latest work to the world. Marie has sold out Broadway and the West End but obviously Belfast is still the place to be.
Kicking off the 2018 Belfast International Arts Festival at the Lyric this week was Dear Arabella. The work features three women, each narrating the story of their lives and the one day in which their paths cross – very, very briefly – but in a way that will have a lasting effect on all of them.
There’s Jean, who finds life passes her by as she cares for an invalid mother. Elsie who is trapped in what used to be a marriage and Arabella herself who pines for a long lost husband.
These women don’t know each other. They come from different backgrounds and different places but they have so many things in common – there’s loss, sorrow, regret and above all loneliness. Each of them experiences the same emotion but in very different ways – one living a life of solitude while another lives surrounded by friends and family.
Full of the magic of Marie Jones, this play is beautiful in its simplicity. There’s next to nothing to the set – three chairs and a big picture of a restless sea. There’s next to no music – just an overheard piano piece that’s integral to the story. The three characters; Jean, Elsie and Arabella don’t even interact with each other. It wouldn’t be right to call this performance a three-hander, it’s more like a three-woman solo play.
There isn’t even an interval during the performance, leaving the audience wondering at the stamina of the women on stage, each of whom seem to be able to sit like a statue for ages on end.
But we didn’t wonder long at the stillness of the actresses; Katie Tumety, Laura Hughes and Lucia McAnespie. We were too busy listening to each of them tell us their story, and wondering what would come next.
Spoiler alert – there are no great dramas here. No one is murdered, no jewels are stolen or princesses kidnapped and rescued by handsome princes. Instead, three ordinary women tell us about their ordinary lives and how a couple of perfectly ordinary encounters changed those lives.
And yet, this play will make you think. It will make you think about the mundanities of life and how difficult it can be to escape the yoke of duty, commitment, family and love. It will make you think about how the most brief of interactions could actually change a person’s life.
This was a charming production and absolutely worth going to see.
Dear Arabella will be on stage at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast until November 10