To Have & To Hold

Kirsten Kearney enjoys a triple dose of trauma with Kabosh's new play

It’s the attention to detail that strikes when you join Kabosh theatre company to view their three-in-one, hugely divergent, new play.

The audience is divided into three groups, each witnessing one of three plays in turn that combine to create a forceful whole.

The irony of the title misses me until hours later when it begins to unlock the secrets and depths of the evening’s strange journey.

To Have & To Hold is a shock to the senses as soon as you walk through the door.

Faure’s Requiem plays and bells ring as the audience are ushered into a thickly-smelling, candlelit room where we gaze upon death.

Death so real it’s like the actors are modelled in wax. We’re surrounded with enough sacred hearts to stock a memorial store. Lalor Roddy and Stella McCusker play Clodagh and Sam, Mother and son.

Death, memory and refusal to let go, displayed in an intimate scene. We feel like intruders upon a wake waiting to happen, observers of a dark edge to a son’s love.

Writer Fergal McElherron, in his first commissioned play, displays an innate understanding of what Clodagh calls the ‘deep ear’ - the ability to see inside a situation, a person or a head and drag out what’s hidden, without, we feel, the character being aware of it.

With the audience moving around the venue, the contrast between staring at the darkness of the death bed and a brightly-lit room, with a girl in a dressing gown, on a laptop, in a film, writhing to a pop song, hits you square in the face.

Dover. Dressed in the shortest of white miniskirts, she is an accident waiting to happen. Planning to happen.

It takes the audience ten seconds to resist the lure of Dover's exposure. Displayed on a raised stage, Bernadette Brown struts her stuff in high sequinned heels for the audience and her waiting public on the internet.

Like a crash course in the worst of celebrity culture, Dover wants to be a name. One name. Like Madonna. Like Marilyn. One unique moment to make her famous forever.

She’s planning her death, willing the hits on her site to jump up and up and up.

It's a Big Brother influenced, Jade Goody-mocking travesty of a life lived at a far remove from reality.

In To Have & To Hold, everything is fake, except the acting. Brown and Martin McCann fill the stage and their characters, exposing the void behind them, a dark YouTube world where you ‘kill big or die big’.

Our final play takes us into the furthest corners of the Old Museum, up stairs lit by votive candles with Christ sculptured on every window-sill.

Higher up, there are dinosaurs, plastic toys, stuffed foxes, a huge tiger. This is a world shrouded in plastic, tomb-like, womb-like.

Attis (Andy Moore) is taping his final confession. We’re in Belfast. On three TV screens a girl laughs by the Big Fish at the Lagan's side.

Her laughter jars with the strange cellophane world and the desperation of the man in the black suit.

The camcorder is there, the screens project his image, but the story is as far from the celebrity-driven, sex-fuelled world of Dover as you could possibly get.

Attis is dressed for a funeral. Suspense builds, drops, builds again. He wants to be a stay at home dad. Desperately. How desperately comes to the surface, slowly, sadly and scarily.

The individual plays throb with humanity. They lay a heart on the stage and invite us to watch to see if it still beats. What makes it tick. What motivates each action.

To Have & To Hold questions many things. Reality, fame, the desire for permanence and the fear of letting go.

The play unsettles, unwraps the macabre potential within us and puts it on the stage. Prepare for a deep post-show conversation. You will need it.

To Have & To Hold plays at The Old Museum Arts Centre, Belfast, Tuesday 6 - Friday 16 February.

To book tickets call The Old Museum Arts Centre on 028 9023 3332