Hey jealousy

Brendan’s Visit, a thoroughly disturbing black comedy by Dennis Kelly, is the author’s first full length play, and on this evidence I would suggest that Dennis Kelly’s future works will receive more than a passing interest.

Focusing on the friendship between two couples:Jeanette and Dave and Mick and Sarah, Kelly explores the psychology of relationships in a vapid world where ambition is a light to be kept firmly under a bushel of affected apathy. As life, orchestrated by drugs, drink, and the dole, drifts inexorably towards an anti-climax of unfulfilled desire the play confronts, in a bleakly comic manner, the fragility of existence.

The languid atmosphere of the opening scenes, masking an uneasy sub-plot of deceit and compromise, is shattered by the arrival of Dave’s sinister elder brother Brendan. Despite not having seen him for ten years the memory of humiliations suffered is enough to drive Dave into a sweaty frenzy of tensile smoking. Brendan, although ten years older, does not appear to have changed, and he is the catalyst for the breakdown of the play’s central relationships. As recollections of the past flood in to infect his present, Dave stiffens his resolve to escape the mundanity of his existence.

Life however, is rarely so accommodating, and a brilliantly conceived set-piece compels Dave to go on the run. His attempts to bury the hatchet have backfired, and in his absence the festering differences beneath the surface of the central friendships begin to rupture. As Mick and Sarah attempt to reconcile Jeanette to Dave’s loss the imbalance of the quartet-become-threesome is glaringly apparent. Jealousy, resentment and deceit rise up to replace the uneasy, but workable, alliance of four friends.

The dramatic pivot for the play is, unsurprisingly, the portentous Brendan. Philip Magee’s performance is extremely assured and his well-judged movements from bonhomie to savagery are entirely convincing.

With a surface tension made up of wry social comedy, beneath which lie the demons of everyone’s past and present, this is a small but splendid play. It approaches a wide range of contemporary concerns and, with the play’s development, wholesome laughter gives way to ever more nervous chuckles as the frivolous is eclipsed by the laying bare of psychological scars.

While it undoubtedly makes for an highly entertaining evening, Brendan’s Visit leaves a deep feeling of disturbing emptiness in its chronicling of a world in which jealousy, desperation, and fear are infinitely more powerful social conditioners that love, honesty and truth.

Until 9th November 1997, The Oxford Arms, 265 Camden High Street. Box Office; 0171-482-4857

Philip Langeskov

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