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Forever Yours, Mary-Lou review at Ustinov Studio, Bath – ‘striking and intense’

The cast of Forever Yours, Mary-Lou at Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Simon Annand. The cast of Forever Yours, Mary-Lou at Ustinov Studio, Bath. Photo: Simon Annand

In Forever Yours, Mary-Lou the four characters assume the formation of a classical quartet. Director Laurence Boswell maintains this striking arrangement, originally inspired by a Brahms recital.

The effect this has is to make the actors address all their lines to the audience in an overlapping barrage of confession and accusation. Re-located to Ireland, French Canadian writer Michel Tremblay’s play depicts a meeting between two estranged sisters, Carmen (Caoilfhionn Dunne) and Mandy (Amy McAllister).

This fraught encounter is framed and interrupted by the inescapable presence of their parents on either side. Polly Sullivan’s set design is adorned with hugging statuettes that mock the family from all directions, and the impossibility of any physical intimacy is intensified by little tombstone lumps between the chairs. As mother Mary-Lou (Caitriona Ni Mhurchu) says, they are all “Alone. Together.”

Wearing rainbows of eye shadow and a scalloped pink dress like the inside of a conch shell, Country and Western singer Carmen appears to have her head in the clouds – the skill of Tremblay’s play lays in its ability to continually invert an audience’s original sympathies, both in the case of the siblings and the parents.

The intensity of the searing, screaming rows as the family’s secrets crash out induces the bitter taste of adrenaline. It is an exhausting watch in the very best sense, its unremitting sorrow only punctured by the hope represented in Carmen’s self-determined escape from this hell.

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Visceral, intense adaptation of a French Canadian family drama