Theatre review: To The Naked Eye

by **

What are the things better left hidden To The Naked Eye in Cerise de Gelder’s play? Do they include the unhappiness within Clare’s matrimony, something neighbour and single-woman Stephanie suspects? Is the unethical business dealings husband Adam is believed to be involved in one of them? And that Stephanie is alone because, decades ago, her three-week-old groom had been convicted of murder — is this another? One thing is certain: none of these revelations makes any difference, even if the story ends with trailing possibilities.

We follow the lives of two suburban households, in which Clare finds herself repeatedly presented with gifts from a grateful Stephanie, whom she had helped in a car accident. When Adam becomes hostile to her excessive presence in their home, Stephanie attempts to convince Clare she could be better off on her own.

Meanwhile, the young house-maker, despite maintaining that she enjoys marital bliss, feels neglected by Adam who, himself nursing hurt from his wife’s one-time infidelity, claims to be hard at work. Then, suspicious of Stephanie’s untoward influence on their marriage, Adam divulges the secrets of her past, and accuses her of sinister motives behind the overtures of friendship.

Although the action of the tale lies in manipulation of power through exhuming skeletons in the closet, Gelder’s drama infers truth may be worth less than one would imagine. As the narrative unfolds, we see that, because of circumstances, bringing things into light changes nothing. Characters seem to accept the impossibility of understanding why people do what they do. Given life must go on, the play leads one to think, it might be preferable for happiness to be uncoloured by pain.

Brenda Palmer’s staging is brilliant, with the characters jointlessly segueing between soliloquy (as they voice their inner thoughts) and dialogue. In her collaboration with Harry Paternoster whose set deploys the space to magnificent effect, she uses long swathes of cloth to convey transience and a sense of deliberate, if languid, interference.

Performance, too, is tremendous. Stephanie Lillis is volatile and vulnerable as Clare, an attention-starved spouse, with divided loyalties, yet sure of neither. Carolyn Masson is nervy and defiant as Stephanie, a middle-aged loner determined to avoid a similar fate that met with the Sarajevo woman (she’d read) who had been so isolated she was discovered years after her death.

And Miljana Cancar is the returned spirit of that Sarajevo woman, the enlightened figure in red who, in spite of lurking in a corner, is an instructive voice inside Stephanie’s head, while Robert Ricks is Adam, effectively suggesting a tormented soul behind the abrasiveness.

This is a profound meditation on idealism and pragmatism, dramatising the interface between self-interests, reality, letting go. What is not hidden To The Naked Eye, though, is that behind the fabric of every existence lies the bleak terror of loneliness.