BWW Review: Stages of loss in GRIEF IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS at The Black Box Theatre, Galway
"'Moving on' is for stupid people," insists the haunted, just-bereaved Dad (Cillian Murphy) in the world premiere of Grief is the Thing with Feathers, Enda Walsh's ambitions, striking, but unsatisfactory stage adaptation of Max Porter's 2016 novel.
In a dishevelled London flat, Dad is grappling with the sudden death of his beloved wife and mother to their two young sons. As the Great Storm of 1987 rages outside, the devastated family are visited by Crow: a volatile, shadowy creation that "eats sorrow" and, in part threat, part consolation, tells them that "I won't leave until you don't need me anymore."
A moustachioed Murphy plays both Crow and Dad. With the hood of his black dressing gown pulled over his head, speaking in a polished, slightly camp English accent through a voice distortion device (that gives it a Hammer horror quality), and moving with a feverish urgency, Murphy vividly captures Crow's otherworldliness.
Murphy's portrayal of Dad is fittingly subdued. Looking gaunt and frail, Murphy's hesitant delivery snapshots a man bewildered by a world indifferent to his near-palpable grief. It's an emotionally disarming turn in a consistently bravura performance.
Walsh's oblique script, emblazoned with his trademark frenetic energy, ritual, and cheesy 1980's music, is realised through a cocktail of Helen Atkinson's immersive, pitiless soundscape and Will Duke's stunning project design - the set's back wall serves as a canvas to display text, photos, and Dad's home-video camera footage.
But the production's strengths are also its weaknesses. Similar to Walsh's Arlington (2016), the visual effects in Grief is the Thing with Feathers overpower the story. This sense is only accentuated by Walsh's uneven direction. Despite helming his own script, Walsh never seems in possession of the play's fluid soul, typified in the way Walsh tries to simultaneously encourage mannered and naturalistic gestures from Murphy's Dad.
Where the Great Storm that batters the London flat is an apt metaphor for the whirlwind ripping through the family, Walsh's direction - and, to a less extent, script - seem more concerned with bluster than grief-induced anguish.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers is co-Produced with the Barbican, London, Cork Opera House, Edinburgh International Festival, Oxford Playhouse, St Ann's Warehouse, and Warwick Arts Centre. The play runs at the O'Reilly Theatre, Dublin from March 28-April 7.
Photo credit: Colm Hogan