Theatre review: Tryst at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin


Written by Jeda de Brí and Finbarr Doyle
Director: Jeda de Brí
Cast: Finbarr Doyle, Clodagh Mooney Duggan, Katie McCann
Project Arts Centre, Dublin
14 April 2018

The drama in Tryst flows so naturally and authentically around a situation that it seems like a play that almost writes itself, or - more likely - it's so well written and performed that it just feels like it. It's a 'real time' drama, one where three people in a room 'discuss' (a mild word for what develops) a situation that has arisen and which then escalates. It feels authentic because it seems like something that could quite conceivably (a rather loaded choice of word) happen and the reactions that each of the characters make it feel natural, but more than just being developed from an improvisation around a situation, there is also a very clever construction that continually shifts the balance of the argument towards one party and then the other.

The 'situation' that has arisen in Tryst certainly has all the potential for explosive and emotional exchanges. Matt and Steph are only six days away from their wedding. There are a few arrangements still to be worked out, but both are a little hung-over - a circumstance that it seems clear is a common enough occurrence. Fortunately they have a good friend, Rachel, who has been up all night working on the complex matrix of the table arrangements for the reception and writing out the place names. Rachel however has something she also needs to tell them that might upset the arrangements a little; she's pregnant.

Quite how Rachel got pregnant and why it's an issue for Matt and Steph I you think you might be able to guess, but this is not the place to reveal such developments. Inevitably, it's not as straightforward as it sounds and consequently it's not going to be that simple to resolve either. Suffice to say that the three of them need to sit down like sensible adults and calmly discuss what to do next. Yeah, like that's going to happen...

What does follows is a rolling sequence of revelations, confrontations, accusations and major upset-ations that play out with a growing intensity and frustration as things get very heated indeed between already wound-up people within the confines of a very small space. For all the size of that space (within moreover the intimate space moreover of the lower stage at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin) and the enclosedness of the situation that is forensically explored for all its emotional and behavioural facets, Tryst is surprisingly expansive in the issues it raises and in the manner in which the writer and director choose to play with how the space is opened up.

It's directed by Jeda de Brí, who also wrote the play with Finbarr Doyle (who also plays Matt in the drama), and it's a measure of the control and understanding of the space and dynamics of dramatic playing that develops what could have been an enclosed room improvisation or experimentation into something greater. There's attention paid to character, to how a certain type of person might realistically behave in any given situation (who will hold their ground, who will back down and continually shift the argument, who is in control of themselves, who is subject to the influence of someone else or outside pressures), but there's also a firm control demonstrated in the measuring the pace and flow of the drama; knowing when to remove one person from the scene, knowing where to place the focus from one moment to the next, constantly shifting the balance to progress to take things to the next level.

As a demonstration of the craft of dramatic staging, Tryst is incredibly well-constructed and exceptionally well-played to maintain rhythm and momentum, but there's nothing academic about it. To hold every member of the audience rapt for a gripping 75 minutes that seems to pass in a flash you need an involving and evolving situation that retains its integrity throughout. You can't achieve that with any flaws or inconsistencies, any doubts about the credibility of the situation or any out-of-character reactions or behaviour. Finbarr Doyle, Clodagh Mooney Duggan and Katie McCann never falter and make the exchanges look easy and natural. As each of them alternately engage your sympathies, disdain, support and disapproval, it becomes evident that Tryst is not a matter of weighting up responsibilities on who holds the moral high ground, as much exploring how some issues can be difficult to resolve when there is a third-party involved, and - sitting around in judgement - that third-party can also the audience or, by extension, society.

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