Eden by Eugene O'Brien sounds as if it should be a promising play. It won the Irish Times Award for "Best New Play" and enjoyed a critically acclaimed sold-out season at the Abbey Theatre at the beginning of 2001. Further more Conor McPherson, who is himself an award-winning playwright with “The Weir”, directs it. In the programme notes the producers optimistically say, "Enjoy the evening. You're in for a treat." Sadly, I found the play to be far from promising and I was badly in need of some light relief when I fled the theatre at the end of the evening.
In the Garden of Eden, god made woman for man, to be a companion and a helpmate. In this paradise stepped in the serpent who promised the first human pair untold happiness if only they would eat of the forbidden fruit. When they do so they are cursed by god who says to the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you". The man is cursed with having to sweat and labour for his living. From now on man would face an existential angst about the purpose of life.
In this play, which is delivered as a series of monologues, we meet Billy and Breda, a married couple with two young children. Breda longs for the love of her husband, and Billy lusts for other women. They have not had sexual relations for sometime, Billy apparently finding relief elsewhere and Breda having discovered the joys of masturbation with the help of erotic stories. We are never told what has gone wrong in their relationship, however it seems that Breda believes it is to do with the fact that she had gained weight, an accomplishment for which she had received the cruel nick-name of "Pig-arse".
We meet the couple as they are planning for a weekend on the town. This is a regular event for Billy, but Breda is planning her first weekend out since she lost her "weight".
Billy, played by Don Wycherley, appears to have little time for Breda, he is known as the man with the ‘golden flute’ a euphemism for his supposedly sexual prowess. However Billy knows that he does not deserve the title and protects his fragile ego and adolescent sense of manhood by trying to seduce younger women. It appears that his coldness towards his wife does not arise from dislike, but from the threat she represents to his manhood. She is a woman who is available to him, though sadly his golden flute seems incapable of playing a tune! Billy is the eternal lager lout, who wants to remain forever young, a drunken Peter Pan, which is why he refers to his wife as his "trouble and strife".
Breda, played by Catherine Walsh, wants nothing more than to be loved. She seems to blame Billy's lack of interest upon herself and longs for nothing more than to be together once again as “a proper married couple”. We share her disappointment, sexual frustration and excitement about having a night out on the town, hopefully to be followed by a night of passion.
Both actors do their best with this lacklustre material. Don Wycherley has the posture and mannerism of an experienced heavy drinker. The way he stands, fidgets with his hands, and occasionally drawls his words, informs you of his drunken state. My one complaint was his accent, it was far too heavy, and I am sure that I was not the only person in the audience who sometimes struggled to understand him. A mixture of broad Irish accent with a slight drunken drawl is not easily discernible to the English ear. He gives a mediocre performance, which was not helped by the terrible script.
Catherine Walsh, whose accent is not as strong, gives a good performance. Her face expresses the mixture of hope, anxiety and disappointment and she is able to make her character come to life. She is the one shining light in this otherwise pedestrian production.
What other critics had to say.....
RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "This is an incredible two-hander....Suberb acting seals this potent evening" LYN GARDENER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Purchasing a ticket for one of these plays is like finding yourself squashed into a seat and forced to listen to the pub bore." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Superbly performed.....Eden is a fine achievement, at once gripping and moving." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "O’Brien replays his characters’ hopes and delusions rather than offering more conflicting viewpoints. It makes for slightly stunted drama on stage." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Impressive, but not original" JANE EDWARDES for TIME OUT says, "O'Brien can certainly write and the two actors are terrific." JOHN THAXTER for THE STAGE says, "A great night out for the London Irish."
External links to full reviews from popular press