At the end of it all – what really matters? Is it the family we cherish, or the mistakes along the way? Or are our last thoughts of the regrets we have gnawed over? John Morton’s already award-nominated Denouement takes a bizarrely optimistic nihilism towards the end of the world as Liam and Edel take in their final moments, one obsessively completing their memoirs, the other frantically attempting to get a hold of their kids and remind themselves of what to hold onto.
Rampant with cold-hearted humour, Denouement sets itself in 2048 and refreshingly places armageddon not as a sudden force or catastrophe, but as an irritation, something we’ve known about for decades, and frankly, we’d prefer it would just hurry up. Comprising a relatively simple premise, Morton’s rehearsed reading channels all of the disheartened regrets from a long-standing marriage into the form of a suspenseful sci-fi drama.
This bickering, without the right chemistry, would wear thin; likely coming across as manufactured or insincere. So what better way to ensure this sincerity than to cast real-life couple Marie Jones and Ian McElhinney. As husband and wife, the two breathe life into every word of Morton’s script creating a natural flow, lifting a rehearsed reading into a full audio play. You hear every creak and desperate breath McElhinney takes as he fruitlessly scrambles to complete his memoir which will never be read. Equally, Jones’ comedic prowess matches her strained concerns as a mother – a perfect counterpoint to the blazing passion she has as a tired, forgotten spouse.
And even as secrets emerge, and the can of proverbial worms can no longer be closed, these feel like genuine people, not characters. Their life choices and regrets are wholly realistic and occasionally sympathetic. The pair wholly inhabit their roles, bringing a homely nature to the end of the world, grounding the chaos, while injecting a relatability to anyone who has heard their parents argue.
And though Denouement is accessible for all, with both a narrative and structure which strikes accords with all households – it is undoubtedly written from the backdrop of an Irish creator. Alcohol, religion, guilt, and family play tremendously volatile (if understated) roles across the productions. Never thrust to the front though, everything is hushed or covered, just like your grandad’s drinking problems.
Beneath the wit and humour of Morton’s writing is also an undeniable bleakness that ties surreptitiously with the tone. The two moods infuse one another, with the jokes making the darkness cleaner to swallow, and the misery fermenting the giggles. When the fates of entire nations can come and go without a single word, other than a message from your pal Chrissie, there’s something profoundly unnerving in the way Denouement twists a gag.
Anyone familiar with director Gareth Nicholl’s powerhouse ability in drawing out every ounce of substance from a text (Crocodile Fever, Ulster American) will find precisely the same energy from Denouement, which merely whets the appetite for a fully staged production. The main detracting feature of Denouement as an audio-reading is the known potential. The wealth of this script, in the hands of Nicholls, has tremendous potential to capitalise on the visceral edge Morton’s writing hints at but requires the visual stimulation to manifest and offer up the gut punches.
So, when the shitshow to end all shitshows goes down – will you be lamenting the past, or savouring your final moments? With 2020 continuously taking every turn imaginable, narratives concerning the end of the world are ripe. Denouement is ready for a staged production, which would allow the direction to evolve from the twisted imaginations at home, and turn the end of all things, into the beginning of another triumph for Traverse Theatre.