Apples and Pears – Sean O’Riordan and the soul of friendship. (Theatre Review)
Rhyming slang is said to have originated in the 1840’s in London’s east end, possibly as a deliberate rouse for criminals to converse without fear of detection by the law. It’s an obscuree form of communication, noun based, that has come to represent its location more than its era, and retained its value for all these years with a strong affectionate fan base who see it as a permanent connection to a certain class in a certain part of London. Sean O’Riordan is one of these affectionate fans, an ex-Londoner himself, actor, playwright and teacher at the Actors College of Theatre and Television. The story goes, Lex Marinos, a fellow teacher at the college and friend of O’Riordan’s, challenged him to write a play for the pair of them and include another friend, Deborah Jones. The project started out in 2010 and it seems has undergone many incarnations till it made its way to fruition, the inaugural season now playing at the Old 505 Theatre in Surry Hills. However, still recognisable at its heart is the affection the core creators have for each other and O’Riordan’s love for the jargon of his home town. On display is a comically dark and surprisingly affectionate ode to friendships that seems to be as unaffected by time as rhyming slang itself.
Apples and Pears (one of the most recognisable rhyming slang phrases meaning “stairs”) opens with a monologue by the gaunt and aging Max. For some reason, Max has been hiding aways in a dingy house, a shut in of sorts, his fear and guilt (about what we wonder) almost breaking him down to a shell if it wasn’t for a passion he developed for chess. Chess, we discover by the end of the play, may not just be his link to sanity – it may in fact give Max the opporunity to win in a world that always forced him to play the role of the loser. We meet Max on the day he has finally decided to connect with the outside world – starting with the engaging of a prostitute from a local brothel.
This one act will unfold a series of events for Max that lead to the appearance of three characters from Max’s past. Three people he has loved, three people he has trusted, three people who may hold the key to whatever future is in store for Max. As the audience pieces the history of these relationships together, we slowly discover there are four separate agendas at work here, and that time has stood still for each of them in very different ways. They’ve all been trapped in rooms of a sort, just like Max, and finally it is time for them all to get out. On the tiny little board of Max’s dusty old room, the ultimate game of chess will be played out, keeping the audience enthralled through multiple twists and turns till the surprise ending.
Apples and Pears is a very funny dark comedy about betrayal, love and revenge at its surface, but underneath it is an ode to friendship and a passion for language. Each role in Apples and Pears is an actors dream, a surreal blending of absurdism and Brechtian gestus, each larger than life character pushing the narrative forward. The plot is relatively simple, but essential to the heart and understanding of Apples and Pears is the collaborative friendships, that come out through the characters, and the connection the three main protagonists have that can’t be denied. Despite betrayals and the ugliness of the human condition, Max, Les and Judy are friends, always have been and in their own twisted way, always will be. None of them are alone, and no matter what the play’s outcome, they inform and create each others lives. This is a play written by an actor for his friends, a great chance to have a lot of fun, and to express the connection moving between them that existed before the words were on the page. Its formulation and circular development speak to the relationships that under pin its inception, with most of the roles being played by the person they were written for.
Along side this lovely connection is the language itself. O’Riordan writes a witty, circular dialogue, lines that are peppered with rhyming slang, and street jargon that amuses, delights and keeps the audience on their toes. The language is dense, filled with meaning, rich and colourful. Lines like “Feeling you, peeling you, reeling you in,” “In front with me mouth and behind with me manners,” “Six millions dollar Barbie,” and “Anything hangin’ or danglin’ is fair game.” This dialogue is laced with street wisdom, as well as the occasional zen wisdom one comes to expect from the street-wise to whom life has not always been kind. At times it’s a rather violent watch with a “you will get wet” warning for those in the front row, but the speed and wit of the language delivered with impeccable timing are a delight to watch. Given the time taken with the development of the project, its natural that not all the original friends are there to be a part of the production. Sean O’Riordan is, however, roaring his character to enormous life and the deliciously sexy Deborah Jones has a fantastic time playing the chamelionic Judy. For this production they are assisted in bringing Apples and Pears to vibrant life by Eleanor Ryan who holds her own against the others perfectly in her challenging role as Kristen and Geoff Sirmai who does a fantastic job as the hopeless and possibly calculating Max. The opening dialogue of Sirmai is one of the stand out moments of the play, as he machine gun delivers his complex lines perfectly so that not a treasured word is lost, nor swiftly passing nuance missed. His Max is surprisingly soulful, and even more surprising – deep. Watching him alone for the first ten minutes is pure joy, till he is joined by Ryan and they launch into one of the funniest routines you are likely to see all year.
Apples and Pears is theatre with real heart and real soul, not to mention real laughs and a little bit of hard thinking thrown in.
Apples and Pears is on until November 24. You can grab your tickets here.