I had not read the book by Max Porter, I did not know the premises behind this theatre piece, just tickets became suddenly available at the Barbican Theatre for this sold-out play adapted by Enda Walsh and I had just watched Cillian Murphy’s excellent, nervous performance in Sally Porter’s The Party. The plot sounded crazy enough to awaken my attention buried under layers of monotonous daily work. So, I told myself, why not?
Grief materializes in the shape and behaviour of a crow in a house where 3 lost boys set out to survive and overcome the sudden death of a wife and mother. I say 3 boys because the adult in the room, the father, is the most boyish character in the play, the most irrational, the one that is hit the most by the absurdity of loss, the absurdity of life. He is the one changing into an animalesque, dystopian character, fluttering and hopping about as the Crow in a physical and mental tour de force. Teho Teardo’s obsessive music sets the mood and mental chaos is wildly depicted on stage with words, written hastily while the Crow speaks, Murphy raps with a distorted voice in a microphone, the word materialize and overlap on the white walls, obsessively crowding the perimeter of the stage, black over white, and more black over white, and more black over white, until every single centimetre of whiteness on stage is covered in black words, black feathers, black mood, black crows… Chaos reign supreme, humans transform into crows, drawings take over the stage, words dematerialize and fall, crashing down to the bottom of the stage.
Grief is messy, grief is incomprehensible, we become unrecognizable with grief. It is never fully resolved, just life takes over, the empty father goes through the rest of his life because he has to, as a spectator, nothing makes sense as it used to.
New girlfriends come and go, his children go on to live their own lives, grandchildren come into the picture. Life just keeps on going leaving you behind leaving your emotions behind. Does it make sense? The simple answer is, no.
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath keep on popping up throughout the play. The father is a fan and a scholar, supposedly writing a book on Ted Hughes. The Crow is Ted Hughes’s creature after all.
Pictures and sound play a character on stage, the deceased appears blond and radiant in the sun. The play is centred around loss, if it were my choice, I would have stripped any idealised visual memory of the mother from actually being represented on stage. I would have chosen to keep just the presence of her soothing voice, beautifully recounting the father’s student days fleeting encounter with his idol, a Q&A with Ted Hughes at Oxford University. I will keep a confused, puzzling memory in my mind, the athletic performance by Murphy, the messiness and indulgence of pain, three boys without their guiding light.