Writer: José Saramago (translator Margaret Jull Costa)
Reviewer: David Keane
In an unnamed land death no longer exists. People age and become ill but they do not die. Death, it seems, is conducting a little experiment. The effect of this is at first lauded as a miracle but the reality soon sets in. No hospital beds, pension crises, no work for the undertaker. Those who are living on well past their death date and now carried over the border, where they can finally rest in peace. As people realise that what initially seems like a blessing is anything but, the experiment is called off. On oddity remains; a musician who will not die. The only thing for death to do is confront him, face to face.
The musician (Raymond Scannell) is slightly perplexed by the arrival of this unknown but intriguing woman (Olwen Fouéré). Here they bring a cat and mouse game of toying and flirtation, each being beguiled by the other. Death struggles with her task as the musician remains in the dark as to who she truly is. While there are impressive moments throughout, this dalliance with death feels flat and lacks some of the spark that the story clearly has to give.
As the personification of death Fouéré cuts a striking image on an otherwise sedate stage. She plays this role slightly aloof, somewhat unsure as to what is happening between her and this pianist who refuses to die. Her performance is solid, as always, and she encapsulates the stoicism of the role while also offering a sense of frustration at how she is maligned as the “bad guy”.
Scannell is a talented musician and has a charming voice; he shines best when behind the piano. Indeed his live performance could be made more of in this show.
Hughes’ direction is clean and precise, using the space well and providing some beautiful moments, such as Fouéré beneath Scannell’s piano as he plays. The set is simple but effective; a grand piano, presumably modified for the piece, and a basic staircase is all that is needed. Lighting (Michael Cummins) is used evocatively and adds subtle drama, keeping in tone with the performance. Fouéré’s costume of a simple bright red coat (Niamh Lunny) provides some much needed visual relief to Death At Intervals and paired with her white hair it becomes an almost ceremonial garment.
With any adaptation there is always the dilemma of what to keep and what to remove. In this instance, the interplay between death and life, and the overall concept that death is necessary ring true, however some of the vitality of the original story is lost.
Runs until 8 October 2016 as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival | Image: contributed