OTwo Reviews: Mark O’Rowe’s The Approach

Image Credit: Laoise tarrant

Hannah Byrne praises the streamed live performance of The Approach and what made the play worth watching.

Every story has more than one way of being told. The question is: Which one do you believe? 

Writer and director Mark O’Rowe plays with this concept in The Approach. The show was broadcast live from the Project Arts Centre in Dublin during the week of the 18th of January. From the virtual theatre foyer to the seamless camera work, the streamed performance brought the spirit of live theatre into homes worldwide. 

The play revolves around the idle coffee table chats of three Irish women, but O’Rowe shows us how a seemingly mundane catch-up can reveal more about us than we may like to admit.

The Approach begins with Anna (Aisling O’Sullivan) and Cora (Cathy Belton) seated at a circular table admiring a bracelet with Denise (Derbhle Crotty) who is quietly observing in the shadows. The opening dialogue - “I like your bracelet actually” - plunges the audience into mid-conversation, showing how O’Rowe writes conversation in a colloquial Irish style.

The portrayal of sisters Anna and Denise shows that although estranged, they possess similar characteristics from their fiery tempers to their strong opinions. Alongside this, Belton’s performance as the wide-eyed, insecure Cora grabs your attention from the moment she steps onstage. Her reserved nature and persistent questions about the lives of the other women make you think about how much of her silence about her own life is a cry for help.

O’Rowe’s psychoanalytic writing and meticulous directing telescopes time as he lays a breadcrumb trail of clues for the audience to follow...

The three women have grown apart since their student days in Ranelagh, showing that deep friendships can be lost when life gets in the way. Despite their attempts to rekindle, it is clear that time has changed them. O’Rowe’s psychoanalytic writing and meticulous directing telescopes time as he lays a breadcrumb trail of clues for the audience to follow and explores the nature of female friendships, one of the major themes of the play.

O’Rowe kept the audience guessing with minimalistic staging and the haunting transitional music of Philip Stewart. The set, designed by Sinead McKenna, consisted of a sea of floating chairs suspended above the stage, an ambiguous design that keeps the audience from knowing exactly where the women are meeting, leaving it up to the imagination. The women also wear the same costumes for the entire 60 minutes and this, too, serves to blur when and where these conversations take place, providing the play with an important universality.

In an engaging post-show conversation, O’Rowe revealed that the play was conceived out of his “curiosity for the human condition.” This curiosity was explored through each woman’s varying behaviour, depending upon who they are talking to, and is a stark reflection of real-life which highlights the realism of his writing.

The live stream performance also included a chat feature where viewers could post comments. This was particularly heartwarming in the minutes before the play started with people sharing where they were watching from, tuning in from 44 countries, from places as far as Alaska to New Zealand. Seeing people around the globe supporting the Irish theatre industry shows how prominent a place Irish theatre holds worldwide. This global support as the actors took their bows speaks for the success that The Approach has had through its balanced depiction of relatability and intrigue.