Saturday, 18 September 2010

A Trilogy Of Appropriation

- three plays by Ian Rowlands
Parthian Books, ISBN 1-902638-01-8

Reading plays does not always work… Words on dry paper can never have an effect like words spoken, shouted or whispered by a flesh and blood fellow human upon a stage. The author of these three collected plays would agree, yet in text form, Rowlands' dialogue has enough rhythm and finesse to carry the reader along and into the worlds of the characters, however unusual they may be.
Blue Heron In The Womb is the first of the plays presented in textual form here, a sharply paced scenario based around the funeral of a baby, bringing out underlying frustrations and resentments within the family of mourners. Sexual tensions and jealously soon transcend grief and the boundaries of life and death become confused.

There is certainly something deep and symbolic going on here, as there is in most of the works of Rowlands, but even if the reader ‘don’t gerrit’, then the skill, pace and intensity of the writing should still leave them with something to grab onto.

Love In Plastic ventures further into a surrealistic mindscape. A story about a man who deals with the death of his parents by transforming his house into a symbolic womb and becoming a recluse for nine months before re-birthing himself into the world, obsessed with tracking down an actress he has seen in a TV advertisement - more death, wombs and birth. It may appear that the subjects of these plays get ‘a bit heavy’, but the dialogue and characterisation is imbued with a lot of wit and philosophical tomfoolery that successfully lightens the tone, often to the point of comedic farce.

The final of the three plays, Glissando On An Empty Harp, continues the thematic journey mapped by the first two plays, with a woman giving birth to a box. The meat of the play is the debate sparked off by this event between two bards who argue about the nature of truth, beauty and art, sometimes falling toward preachy polemic, but usually redeemed by self-referential puns and self-conscious parallels with religious dogma.

On the surface, these texts can be read as lyrical interactions, much like successful poetry. If the reader ponders longer, there is always a little more to what is being said… well perhaps not always… you’ll have to decide that for yourself!

- Reviewed by Remy Dean

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