There’s a wonderful book called Nalda Said by Stuart David, where the central character has grown up still believing the tales his mother told him when young. These childhood beliefs shape his behaviour, stopping him living what we’d consider a normal life. I’m reminding of this as I watch Lipzinc’s Pheromone, where David (Eoin O’Sullivan) may be 36 but is still living at home with his “mammy” Eva (Martina McCormack), a woman who has clouded his mind with stories about breaking hearts.
Almost before Eva utters her first words, you sense something is just not right. Her clothing, or lack of, and her mannerisms signal how inappropriate she is with David. And it gets worse when they begin to talk. One moment she is putting him down, the next praising him. Most of the time she is hardly aware of what he is saying, so consumed with her own selfish needs she hardly acknowledges that David has just lost his job. McCormack’s Eva is superb in a cringeworthy way. You can hardly draw your eyes from her, even though you really don’t want to look, as she parades around in underwear, stockings and heels as if David were her lover not her son.
The status quo between the two is irreparably upended with the introduction of Ruth (Tzarini Meyler), David’s latest girlfriend; one who this time Eva cannot scare away. Rather, Ruth seems to savour the battle between herself and Eva. Things escalate quickly as the pair fight for David’s full attention, ending in a rather Philip Ridley-esque outcome that is both shocking and hilarious in equal measures.
Dramatically, Pheromone hits all the right notes. Filmed at The New Theatre, Dublin almost entirely with a single static camera, it is possible to view the whole stage throughout. In fact, on those few occasions that they cut away from this camera and use some clever editing effects, it distracts from the play rather than adding to it. What initially seems a rather daunting two hour run time flies by. The exchanges between David and Eva offer insight into a complex family relationship, and when Ruth joins the party her run-ins with Eva are pure bitchiness.
If I’m being picky, I’d suggest Eva could do with a tighter back story. At times I pondered if her behaviour stems from childhood trauma or an abusive relationship with her long-gone husband, and both feel suggested at different stages. It also seems a shame that Ruth is introduced so late into the story. With much of the action being between mother and son, her character feels a little underutilised, even if she does steal the play come the end.
There’s a lovely old-fashioned feel to proceedings, the look, style, everything just screams theatre, not TV drama. Strangely, it’s also the reason I would generally not be watching this had it been in a theatre, as you wouldn’t find this type of show in the usual venues I frequent. This is way more old school than the more modern offerings of many fringe venues. Think Jermyn Street Theatre rather than Theatre503! But watch it I did, and to my great surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it, almost wanting to know how things turned out between David and Ruth afterwards; although I fear David is in for more of the same, as Ruth is way too much like his mother than he probably realises.
Written by: Tzarini Meyler
Directed by: Kate Conboy-Fischer and Tzarini Meyler
Produced by: Lipzinc Theatre Company
Pheromone is available to stream from TakeYourSeats until 23 May. Tickets are £10 plus £1 booking fee. Further information and booking via the below link.