As the play opens one is presented with a somewhat bewildering array of actors littered across the stage and the mood, set by some well-chosen music, is convincingly sombre. If I had to describe the opening atmosphere in a word it would be ‘lugubrious’, which, to my mind, is something of a testament to Director Tatiana Hennessy’s skill.
One realises immediately that this is a play without ornament or gimmick and so relies heavily on its cast. In the face of such pressure, this cast perform admirably. The dynamic achieved between Jack Peter’s Hark and Timothy Coleman’s Dido is utterly convincing but some of Dido’s camper moments leave a little to be desired. Aidan Russel’s Seph, however, deserves special mention: that a character, even when not speaking, can be so believable, is a triumph. Lucy Fyffe, a talented actress as it is, has a pleasing resemblance to Sinéad O’Connor, which, although by a perhaps somewhat asinine logic, gives the feeling that she is right for the part. Moya Hughes too looks the part but also has couple of moments of endearingly real performance.
Indeed the entire cast, when there are moments of cheerfulness, succeed in making it look forced, which, rather than being a veiled criticism, is genuine compliment because their characters would surely have had to have forced themselves to be cheerful. Furthermore, if there was one character whose cheerfulness seemed more genuine, it would be Dido, which again works well with the commentary that the play attempts to achieve. The staples of good drama such as a slap and the all-important kiss are polished and well-executed, even if the slap might have been overplayed to the detriment of Jack Peter’s face and the kiss underplayed to the detriment of the voyeur.
One cannot escape, however, the political element to this play: set in the aftermath of Bloody Sunday in Derry, there are striking parallels drawn to the events surrounding the release of the Saville Inquiry. Some may remember the ceremony where the victims’ names were read by relatives who finally felt as if they had some closure, which contrasts sharply with the limbo-state the characters find themselves in. There are deeper truths to be found in this play too: as the director put it, ‘The play has some pretty powerful things to say about facing up to the truth – all of the characters are in some way lying to each other and to themselves, and ultimately what makes the play so redemptive is that they all come to appreciate the importance of facing up to things – ‘living with what you’ve done’, as one of them says. I also chose it because I think it deals powerfully and beautifully with the way we as individuals deal with grief, balancing raw outbursts with humour and even poetry and song.’
This production of ‘Carthaginians’ promises to be a highlight of the Michaelmas term, and the entire cast and crew are to be commended.