Veronica’s Room, Theatre Review, Apollo Arts, August 7, 2019
By Conor O’Neill
You’d hardly recognise the little space that is Apollo Arts. It’s so small and without any real semblance to a theatre that our taxi driver drove past it on the Castlereagh Road. 16B, behind it a flight of stairs and we’re in the reception area where prosecco is being served in plastic champagne flutes.
Upstairs it may be but this little theatre is as underground as Lou Reed, Nico, Andy Warhol and other velvet company.
Robin Elliott, who invited me along, says he’s expecting 30 people; the space holds 60. As the minutes count down all seats are taken yet a couple of more seats appear, seemingly from a magician’s hat with a, ‘hey, you can fit in here’ and the capacity is complete. A tinkling piano moves its way through jazz scales. To our left is a large item, covered with a white sheet, another draped object sits centre stage, one more to our right. Old art hangs on tired wallpaper: portraits; scenic paintings; a bookcase; at the rear hangs dresses of bygone years.
The music turns from piano to Mingus-style slow, descending bass. All are seated and with 60 plus in such a small room, sweat holds the walls like a ‘need-to-know’, illicit, Soho gambling club.
The cast come in. Four in total but you’ll witness or hear revelations about so many more. And so, Apollo Arts rendition of Ira Levin’s thriller Veronica’s Room begin. The year is 1973. Psychology student, Susan, is met by two strangers Maureen and John, complete with thick Irish accents the Mackeys swear Susan is the double of the long dead, Veronica. Susan’s companion since Sunday, Larry is not entirely convinced. Adventurous, free spirited and naïve, Susan puts this down to Larry’s occupation as a lawyer. But, there’s something about Larry that is unnerving.
Invited back to the Mackey’s employers house, Maureen ask Susan to act as Veronica to cease the torture of their employer’s, dead Veronica’s deranged sister Cissie. The Mackeys leave as a bewildered Susan dresses in an old-fashioned night gown. Sheets are removed, a bed, an easel and a gramophone revealed.
The Mackeys return. Maureen and John are no longer. They’ve assumed the names of Nedra and Lloyd. Their Irish accents turn to Bostonian, the mood changes. It’s 1935. Accusations flow, almost every crime that is taboo is aimed Susan’s way. She tries to convince those with delusions. Shouting for a non-compliant Larry does no good.
Apparently in the original the cast read as young girl, old woman, young man, old man. Such is the ambiguity of this one act 60 minute play that names hardly matter. What does is identity. Susan pleads, begs and then turns to rage as she rants the future, present and past: ‘The depression, Roosevelt, Richard M Nixon, Onassis, JFK, Jonny Cash, Rolling Stones, Woody Allen, Woody Guthrie, Woody fuckin’ Woodpecker…’.
Old woman, old man send for Doctor Simpson. Still no word from Larry. A kind of Stockholm Syndrome kicks in. This little piece of theatre will have you doubting what’s what and who’s who.
On receiving a list of the cast I learn Susan is played by a 16-year-old called Olivia Davidson. Her range is quite outstanding for one so young. Caleb Dickie is Larry, another youngster with a bright future ahead. Old woman is Catriona Lily a veteran with stage and film credits. Old man, Sean Lewis is another with letters after his name and after a long sabbatical away from the stage earned a place on the Lyric’s Actor’s Studio scheme and relaunched himself back to theatre. A fine mixture.
Hats off to director, Nathan Jones, whose specialty is musical theatre, former actor and creative head of Apollo. A company to keep your eye on and a smashing addition to the EastSide Arts Festival.
Veronica’s Room runs until Sunday, August 9. Show starts at 7.30pm To book your tickets phone 07881 80362 or visit http://www.apolloarts.co.uk