What is this? Why is no one else here wearing a ball gown? When I ascertained that this event was actually the performance of a play named The Masquerade Ball, I surreptitiously secreted my feather boa in my handbag and made the best of it.
Colm Mahon’s new play is an emotionally intense tale of anger, hubris and the bitter consequences of love lost. The setting appears to be a contemporary rural Irish party during the Christmas season, but this is quite ambiguous.
Much of the story is told by Michael (Keith Thompson) through a monologue. The use of this technique is well established, but to use it almost exclusively is an unconventional choice.
Thompson certainly rises to the challenge laid out by his demanding role: Michael appears, at first, to be charismatic, confident and popular, but then a sinister, violent alter ego emerges.
Though the role calls for exaggeration and an energetic approach, Thompson succeeds in paying attention to the little details, the subtleties that make a character plausible. His portrayal of Michael’s decent into madness and bitterness is masterful.
Greta (Elizabeth Chappell) is the second-most important character in the play. The introduction of a second significant character is vital to the creation of genuine drama and plot development; before her introduction, much of the action was second-hand, as retold by Michael. With her presence, the well-written dialogues lead to emotional crescendos that feel real and profound.
The aforementioned ambiguity stems from the accents of the characters. Michael tells us that he has little respect for his family because none of them – except himself – escaped their rural upbringings.
Shortly afterwards, we are introduced to a genteel English-sounding uncle and some other supposedly rural neighbours with mid-Atlantic accents. It doesn’t make much sense.
The minor players are otherwise impressive: in one remarkable scene, a dance bizarrely descends into a murderous brawl for no apparent reason.
However, the lack of causality is a deliberate ploy by Mahon to heighten the audience’s sense of unease and discomfort. Choreographer, Liane Barry, brings the concept subtly and gracefully to fruition.
The Masquerade Ball is stunning, traumatic and unsettling. The professionalism of the cast and the artistry and skill of the direction team allow the powerful plot to shine through, leaving the viewer dazed and thoroughly unprepared for 2 o’clock lectures.