Writer: Franz Xaver Kroetz (Translated by Conor McPherson)
Director: Ian Rickson
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Continuing its interest in European plays about parenthood, the Young Vic brings a new translation of The Nest to one of its smaller stages based on the original text by German writer Franz Xaver Kroetz. Following the huge success of this summer’s Yerma about the pain of infertility by Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, The Nest, translated by acclaimed writer Conor McPherson and with music by P.J. Harvey, can be seen as a natural companion piece, focusing on what happens when that longed for child actually arrives.
Kurt and Martha are preparing for the imminent arrival of their first son, trying to scrape together the money they need to pay for all the things he’ll need. Working long hours doing everything they can, the couple is exhausted so when Kurt has the chance to make some easy money helping his boss, he takes it. But once the baby arrives the implications of that decision will have far-reaching consequences, forcing them to question not only whether they’re good parents, but if they’re good people.
Director Ian Rickson allows this new production to take its time, ensuring the audience has a chance to establish a connection with the characters before any major plot twists occur, and by lingering on some of the key moments that have no speech. Kroetz’s 1975 text is given a nice modern resonance by McPherson who transports the story to semi-rural Ireland, which neatly picks up the environmental aspects of the plot and the central couple’s materialistic ambition to provide for their child.
The slow-burn approach, for the most part, works well and spending time with Martha and Kurt initially as they work out their baby budget and imagine their future as a family is engaging, setting us up nicely for what follows. Similarly, much later in the play, as the effect of Kurt’s actions becomes clear, he takes a number of drastic steps and, in section that has no dialogue, Rickson allows the scene to build for several minutes giving actor Laurence Kinlan a chance to convey Kurt’s powerlessness and frustration physically rather than vocally.
Less successful is what comes next, and having laid the groundwork so carefully and taken the plot to a point of crisis, it seems to suddenly become something else. So while the first half and the “incident” are about the baby, what follows is only tangentially related, becoming instead a political discussion about working relationships and a moral one about when to do the right thing. And those two things don’t sit entirely comfortably together, losing some of the intimacy of what was essentially a character study of two quite different people having a child together.
Kurt undergoes the most change during the course of the play and, having started as a simple, easy-going and hard-working man, he becomes considerably more emotional and nagged by his conscience, which Kinlan explores with depth and affection. Caoilfhionn Dunne is his more prepared and sensible wife, Martha, who keeps the family steady with her no-nonsense approach. Dunne’s Martha refuses to indulge her husband’s self-pity but displays a protective tenderness towards him that feels like a natural extension of her maternal instincts.
Rickson’s production with Harvey’s atmospheric score makes for an engaging 100 minutes that keeps the audience interested in what happens to this family. Alyson Cummins set design gives visual clues to the couple’s financial difficulties, as the mouldy base merges with the natural world emphasising how decisive an element this will be in their lives. Although the final 15-20 minutes feels a little wayward after the emotional heights of the earlier scenes, The Nest is an interesting piece about the effect of having a child and doing anything to protect them.
Runs until 26 November 2016 | Image: Contributed