Irreconcilable Differences is an ambitious play: a husband and wife (not very happily married at all) have been in a car accident, and by the end of the play, it will be up to the audience to decide which one of them lives.
It’s an interesting moral dilemma to be placed with, and in the knowledge that it’s all fictional, it’s a pretty thrilling experience. Alan Flanagan’s writing flows – in the confines of this space between life and death it’s pretty difficult to deliver a full on storyline, yet at the same time, making an hour long plea directly to the audience would be boring. So Flanagan has found a happy medium in this extremely inventive new work. Using an audio accompaniment, we hear flashes of significant memories that Polly and Ben have shared and their story emerges from this.
The link to reality is tenuous and terrifying; they experience moments of consciousness, collapsing and screaming as they are operated on and fighting for their lives in a biological sense, in contrast to the more psychological debate had with the audience. At times the audio even works against them, playing soundbites that refute what somebody’s said. It all intricately comes together so that this web of significant moments straighten into a single thread spanning their married life, and we feel we’ve come to a place where you can make a decision. I did anyway – there were a few people in the audience that I noticed didn’t want to vote, as if their decision was real.
Polly (Laura Kelly) and Ben (Killian Sheridan) make this feel real; their acting is so convincing and complex. We’re essentially presented with several arguments from Polly or Ben for why their other half should be killed, or they should live. They hate each other – that’s never contested – so the characters and dialogue are confident, but they did once love each other and that is so tragic to watch. There are so many layers to Kelly and Sheridan’s performance. Kelly is thick skinned; her cold exterior doesn’t compel me to vote for her but beneath it she is obviously scared. I find Sheridan plays Ben as much more open with his emotions and repentant for the things he has done to wrong. The dynamic between these two actors grabs you with its fierce chemistry. Also directing it, Flanagan has chosen to link the actors with a long rope that winds around the set as they run more proverbial circles around one another with their verbal arguments. The pace of this play doesn’t let up; the combination of audio, leaps of consciousness back in the hospital and their pleas are structured orderly, whilst striking the audience with moments of shock and surprise.
The choice element is so significant in making this play about more than these two characters and even though it’s over in a minute, there’s this sense of pressure on you from the beginning. Irreconcilable Differences is exciting theatre that pushes boundaries and is really worth catching at the Fringe.
**** – 4/5 stars
Irreconcilable Differences plays at Gryphon Venues The Point Hotel until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.