The Nest | Theatre Review
The Lyric, Belfast • 11 October ’16
Review by Kaity Hall • Photography Steffan Hill
A year on from the Irish premier of Conor McPherson’s The Night Alive, the Irish playwright’s translation of Franz Xaver Kroetz’s ‘Das Nest’ is brought to the Lyric Theatre and The Young Vic.
Described as a “fable of individualism” McPherson’s adaptation, directed by Ian Rickson, teases out the original 1975 German play, conveying the integral relevance its message has in society today and lends it an inherently Irish feel.
Young couple Martha (Caoilfhionn Dunne) and Kurt (Lawrence Kinlan) are expecting their first child. The play opens in the last few days of Martha’s pregnancy with the couple getting everything ready for their new arrival. Of course this is not without a certain sense of apprehension. Babies are expensive and times are hard. Kurt’s first in line for any overtime at work and will take all the hours he can get to ensure his son has everything he needs. Even Martha’s taken on a work from home, a telephone survey job.
The stage set up, quite literally lays bare this young couple’s shabby apartment as it has no walls and exterior nature such as the twisting ivy outside is seen to intermingle with the apartment. Grime coats the wardrobe and kitchen units whilst intricate details such as a bed that doubles up as the sofa and a Tesco Value loaf of bread attests to the less than luxurious life the young couple uncomplainingly lead. Despite the apparent lack of money, in these last few days of pregnancy, the couple appear happy, making the most of their lives together and finding small joys in one another.
Yet it is the small moments of silence, the lingering gazes into the distance from both Martha and Kurt that say more than the script to a certain extent. The underlying worry of money and the nerve-wracking responsibility of raising a small human is palpable during these moments.
PJ Harvey’s original score really enhances the performance. Playing at intervals while the couple go about their business. Kurt going to work, Martha pottering about the house, both of them going to their allotment together, Harvey’s steady, grungy guitar alternates into soft piano throughout the play, intensifying in the darker moments.
What makes The Nest really stand out however, is the raw moments of overwhelming emotion that both Dunne and Kinlan absolutely excel at delivering. The domestic disputes in which they scream at each other in utter frustration are so difficult to watch and listen to through the level of realism which they reach. It is a complete contrast to the small, tender moments between them, sitting at the allotment together or the first moment Kurt lays eyes on their son, Stefan.
Kurt goes above and beyond to provide for his family. On his first day off in three months, he cannot help but mention work repeatedly and to Martha’s frustration. “Can you not just enjoy your day?” she says, the three of them out together at the lake – the lake where Kurt will soon drain the toxic waste that will burn his wife and son when they return, alone.
The Nest functions as a cautionary tale of materialism in a society of zero hour contracts, where many struggle to get by and are crying out for overtime in measly paid jobs. The message that it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re working for whenever all you do is work has a haunting universality to it that will ring true with so many viewers.
The most painstaking scenes are the ones in the aftermath of Kurt receiving the news of his son being harmed by the toxic waste and that he may not survive it. Frantically running about the lonely apartment searching for something that will end his life, it seems as though the very materials collected in his home are conspiring against him in his lowest hour.
The bottle of Calpol, the pregnancy tablets and the package of nappies all seen in the apartment serve as subtle reminders of what his working long hours has gone toward and how futile they are without his family there by his side, as he sobs endlessly on the apartment floor.
Contrasting the small moments of joy with life’s hardships, The Nest strives to convey how close we all are to the edge of losing that which makes us happy in life and that we shouldn’t lose sight of the small joys in a money-focused, corporate world.