Ensemble Theatre, October 15
On the page David Hare’s My Zinc Bed is often a cold as the cocktails that litter its story. The three characters jostle and banter, love and betray, but the stakes seem small, with Hare’s motives split between a cursory investigation of the nature of addiction, a flirtation with his beloved political themes, and a more interesting play about unbalanced relationships. Mark Kilmurry’s production, however, warms Hare’s words until they sufficiently mulled for us actually to come to like the characters.
A bravura performance by Sean Taylor infuses Victor, an ex-communist turned IT magnate, with a fiercely beating heart, charm and an implicit sadness. Taylor’s magnificent voice, reminiscent of Rex Harrison’s in pitch and resonance, conveys the charismatically unstoppable force that propelled Victor to his success. Yet, for all the trappings of wealth, it is a place bereft of friends, in which his marriage to Elsa (Danielle Carter) largely seems founded on need and pity.
Stepping between them comes Paul (Sam O’Sullivan), improbably a poet (and therefore inevitably a pauper), and above all, in giant neon letters, an alcoholic. In fact alcohol is central to the lives of all three in various ways.
As written Paul is petulant, whinging and unattractive, but the admirable O’Sullivan imbues him with a ready smile that he flashes whether amused or edgy, and suddenly it becomes plausible that Elsa, young enough to be Victor’s daughter, should take an interest in him.
Although Carter portrays Elsa as less provocative than the text suggests, this deepens her relationships with both men, and she rounds out the character sufficiently to be a credible foil for the superb creations of Taylor and O’Sullivan.
Structurally the play is just a cumulative series of conversations which Kilmurry locates on Tobiyah Stone Feller’s stark, non-literal set so they never seem contrived. Despite occasionally veering dangerously close to soapy melodrama, and despite Paul’s brief narrative addresses to the audience seeming redundant, this is a worthy enough play flattered by exceptional acting in a compassionate production.
Until November 22.