EFR - Reviews of My Best Friend Drowned in a Swimming Pool

My Best Friend Drowned in a Swimming Pool

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

David Knowles

at 09:58 on 13th Aug 2011

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The boldness of Eva O’Connor is unquestionable. To write a show, bring it to the fringe and star in it is a daring move. Unfortunately, My Best Friend Died in a Swimming Pool comes across as a shameless and self-promoting exercise for the young Irish playwright. She has written herself the best part; the most interesting character, dripping with self-indulgent sass and even uses her contemporary dancing skills on stage whereas whatever other talents the rest of the troupe possess are left untouched.

The writing itself is long winded and self-conscious. The different characters seem to speak not with their own voice but as a many headed Hydra of one wit-cracking, sarcastic, streetwise teenager. The staging and direction is stilted and at times recalls the most middling of A-level drama shows. There is no discernable reason why all the characters remain on stage during the show for example. As for the props; the icon of the Virgin Mary hanging over proceedings just seems totally bizarre.

There are some interesting ideas here however. Ruairi O'Shea plays a gay catholic, an intriguing contradiction (or not a contradiction at all according to his character) and I was interested to see how the character would be developed. However it never came to pass and O’Shea (definitely a talented actor) was stuck playing a 2D stereotype.

My biggest problem with the piece was that, although it raised interesting questions and ideas it explored them with all the subtly of a sledgehammer. Paedophilia and its psychological consequences were paid brief attention during one monologue as was atheism, nihilism and women’s’ sexual freedom in others. The characters talk at length about these issues, their personal problems and their causes but the script’s constraints and the general mediocrity of the acting meant that I felt very little emotion for the characters. The only time I felt genuinely moved was by Connor played by Dan Cummins who started hitting the mark towards the end of the piece with his portrayal of a teenager who had utterly given up hope.

Altogether then My Best Friend Died in a Swimming Pool is not a very good play. No element in it ever really convinces (although Cummins and O’Shea do come close) and the uncomfortable feeling that the talent of its writer is being constantly thrust into your face is a distasteful one.

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Juliet Roe

at 12:15 on 13th Aug 2011

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When writing a ‘dark, witty, drama exploring friendship, love and loss’ there is inevitably a tension between exploring the unseen, often unspeakable emotions and creating a show that is entertaining and watchable. In this new play by Eva O’Connor I think the latter won; ‘My Best Friend Drowned in a Swimming Pool’ felt a bit like it had prioritised snappy, witty dialogue over character development.

The piece is an exploration of the void left in the lives of four teenagers following the accidental death of their friend Henry, Barrymore-style, at a party. Visually the play was simple yet effective; a mixture of monologue and dialogue were weaved very successfully together by well considered movement around the stage, an elegance which was echoed in the choreographed dance interludes between scenes. These interludes went on just that little bit too long on a few occasions, with some of the other actors not as comfortable in their movements as O’Connor, who is also a dancer. If the idea was for these dance sequences to balance out the very wordy dialogue and monologue, it failed in this respect. The dialogue in the play was better than the monologues, which were occasionally wordy enough to undermine the emotions they were supposed to be expressing. Ruairi O'Shea’s character Liam, for example, though well played was not given enough development beyond being ‘the gay-Catholic one’, an issue that contradicted the structure of the play as being the exploration of four responses to bereavement.

There is, however, a lot to be enjoyed in this production; there are some great performances from O’Connor and Dan Cummins, playing Henry’s best friend Connor, who was allowed inarticulacy by his ‘I don’t give a shit’ character, which actually gave a more telling portrayal of grief than the other, mouthier characters. Having a silent Henry omnipresent on stage served as a good visual anchor for the living characters, whose parts were in danger of becoming too self-indulgent on occasions. An idea which felt very innovative was the reintroduction of Henry amongst his drugged up friends in the final scene, which gave the storyline a psychological twist as the characters found that the thing they all wanted- having Henry back again- only complicated their relationships with each other and undermined the value of their grief. Cummins and the ‘teenage widow’ Chloe, played rather erratically by Jassy Earl, gave the best responses here and it was this scene which retroactively made the play more intelligent in feeling.

This production had its moments of innovation and poignancy but there was a slight ‘A-level drama’ quality to it that was produced by the failure to develop some of the characters properly. Aidan Heald’s (Henry) delivery of teenage bravado and cheek in his resurrection scene jarred with the angst-laden speech from his friends in the rest of the play, a contrast refreshing enough to save this piece from being that little bit too ‘cool’ to be moving,

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