Theatre review: Conversations After Sex explores a world of hookups in modern Ireland 

Kate Stanley Brennan stars in Mark O'Halloran's play at Dublin Theatre Festival 
Theatre review: Conversations After Sex explores a world of hookups in modern Ireland 

Kate Stanley Brennan in Conversations After Sex by Mark O'Halloran. Picture: Ste Murray

★★★☆☆

While Philip Larkin places heavy, ironic emphasis on the “ought” when he says “talking in bed ought to be easiest”, his poem does put it nicely when describing why that should, at least in theory, be the case. The shared bed, he writes, creates a “unique distance from isolation”.

In Mark O’Halloran’s play, the intimacy of the bedroom gives his characters a short-lived alternative to their atomised lives. If sex is the ultimate in letting one’s guard down, that mood follows into what’s said afterwards. Nudity, which we get in full in the first few moments of the play, is followed by emotional exposure, even if you’re awkwardly pulling back on your underwear at the same time.

An excellent Kate Stanley Brennan plays a woman who, in her own words, is liable to “spin out of control” after the death of a lover. Over the course of a year, we follow her various hookups with a recurring handful of men.

 The scene changes come rapidly, with a new time and place introduced by surtitles. It could be a hotel room, a bedsit, her place, his place. Sarah Bacon’s set, then, is necessarily not overdetermined: an unmade bed providing all the focus needed.

A versatile Fionn O Loingsigh plays all the men. If initially that is to signal their interchangeability, these characters do become more fully formed as the scenes progress. A Brazilian who feels his life in Ireland is on pause. A conceited philanderer who gives his fiancee chlamydia. A spurned country lad. An enthusiastic young buck. A drinker whose mother is dying.

 Their stories, their lives, are as open to pain and suffering as the woman’s – perhaps this is the perspective she needs from all this, despite her protestations that she “just likes to fuck”.

If the structure sounds perfect for the playwright, then that’s because it probably is. It’s not hard to imagine this being an exercise in a creative writing class. And since this is Mark O’Halloran, there’s not a line out of place. Tom Creed directs the action fluidly, despite the stop-start nature of the scenes.

 But entailed in the structure is a distancing from the characters. Growing empathy is palpable between them, and that is the chief interest as we watch. But the viewer is more distanced, reduced to a voyeur. We get up close to these people’s lives, but we’re never really let in.

  • Until October 17 at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin, and will be streamed online on October 16

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