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The Approach review at Assembly Hall, Edinburgh – ‘quietly powerful’

Cathy Belton and Aisling O'Sullivan in The Approach. Photo: Patrick Redmond

Mark O’Rowe’s quietly powerful three-hander takes the form of series of conversations. Three women – Cora, Anna, and Denise – discuss the various men in their lives, partners past and present. Only gradually does it become clear that two of these women, Anna and Denise, are sisters and that at different points they both had a relationship with the same man, something that resulted in a long period of resentment and estrangement. Cora listens to both sides of their story, patiently and attentively.

Through a stream of mundane details, descriptions of Dublin shopping trips and the remodelling of a kitchen, little glimpses of underlying loneliness emerge like silver fishes.

O’Rowe’s keen ear for the way people speak captures all the little hitches, adjustments and micro-deceptions embedded in their dialogue, the gaps through which unsaid things can slide, the ways in which jealousy manifests.

The piece becomes increasingly slippery and circular as it continues, each woman repurposing the same romantic anecdote, making it personal to them. The most tragic moment is played down in a way that only magnifies its power.

Cathy Belton, Derbhle Crotty and Aisling O’Sullivan all give performances of precision, alert to the play’s rhythms. Sinead McKenna’s spare set, with its canopy of empty chairs, is also poetically effective. It’s a not a firecracker of play, rather a subtle, layered piece that rewards close attention. An early image, of a flame shining on a hill in the dark, gains a melancholy new resonance by the end.

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Understated and quietly powerful exploration of loneliness and longing