Dublin Carol review at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff – ‘evocative and dreamlike’
Conor McPherson is an expert of the uncanny – a fact not lost in Matthew Xia’s fantastically dreamlike production of Dublin Carol. Here, all hints of the otherworldly are pushed to the foreground, with the supernatural sliding into the surreal.
Alcoholic undertaker John (Simon Wolfe) sees out Christmas Eve in a coffin-shaped room, where rose petals from floating funeral wreathes fall like autumn leaves onto the stained carpet.
Despite his sins being gradually disclosed, Wolfe captures the enigma of the character, making him bizarrely sympathetic. Somehow it’s understandable that his daughter Mary (Siwan Morris) still bothers to visit.
Ghosts are conjured from the man’s past as he liberally drinks his Christmas spirits, with Ciaran Cunningham’s lighting fading rapidly to a sunset glow. Long shadows creep up the walls towards the growing damp, as though spectres are being beckoned in, seance-style.
Reminders of religion are peppered throughout Lily Arnold’s extraordinarily detailed set design. The Virgin Mary is crammed in behind the coffee tin. Jesus peaks out from behind a cheap and shiny festive streamer. A crucifix can just be spotted in the hallway. And Alexandra Faye Braithwaite’s sound design contains the distant and distorted sounds of choral song.
Yet for all its paranormal qualities, McPherson’s play is fundamentally about the here and now. Loneliness, broken families and hurt underwrite the action. Xia strikes this balance well. Doors keep closing on John as the crucial words “dad” and “son” puncture the pleasant rumble of dialogue, leaving pauses that feel like wounds.