Arts Review: Bright Colours Only

Citizens Theatre, 1st – 12th May, dir. Marshall Cordell & Pauline Goldsmith

Shots of whiskey, tea in delicate floral cups, white triangle sandwiches, and even a tub of cookies going round for everyone in the audience to share… Honestly, what more could one ask for at a night at the theatre? Oh yes, that’s right – exceptional acting, captivating themes, emotion, humour, and the feeling of satisfaction when you leave. Fortunately, that’s all part of Bright Colours Only too.

After being individually welcomed by Pauline Goldsmith – I was told my glasses made me look ‘smart’, and that she remembered me when I was down to her knee – the audience take their seat in the Citizen’s intimate Circle Studio: tonight made to look like an old-fashioned Irish living room. With limited means, this is done persuasively: it feels like my gran could walk in at any minute. Throughout the whole performance, there is a sense of conviviality and community among the audience and Goldsmith, as if we really do all know each other at this Irish wake we are attending.

For a play about death, Bright Colours Only is undeniably hilarious. Goldsmith is fantastic as the strict, informative undertaker with many expressive mouth-gestures, and convincingly takes on the role of elderly ladies reminiscing about their past too. But when the mood does get a bit more serious, her emotion is subtle yet deeply affecting. As Goldsmith is the only performer, the change-over to different characters’ parts is quite haphazard. Furthermore, the addition of animated stories about experiences with death mismatches the rest of the performance and atmosphere. Fortunately, it does not matter too much, as all elements of the show share the same theme and thus create a unity that way.

In addition to Goldsmith’s class acting, there are some absolute gems in the play’s text. “There are two things you must never lose, your faith and your virginity,” one of her elderly characters exclaims. Her main character talks about the “black snowball” of death leading to death, leading to another death during the times of The Troubles in Ireland, North and South. Here, the personal intertwines with the political. From literature, TV, and drama, we know death as poetic and emotional, and it certainly is in Bright Colours Only. But it is also comical, ordinary, life-changing and life-affirming. Because more so than about death, Bright Colours Only is about life, with all its beauty, pain, regrets, community, frustrations, and humour.

[Aike Jansen]

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