Review: The Approach, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Fringe

In its dissection of friendship and relationships, Mark O’Rowe’s new play The Approach feels almost voyeuristic. Covering four years, it features three women who, in a series of different pairings, meet in a coffee shop in Dublin to catch up on each others’ news. From the banal to the deeply personal, it feels like we are eavesdropping on normal conversations that, bit by bit, suggest raw emotions and pain beneath the light, gossipy tone.

The trio – sisters Anna and Denise and their friend Cora – have a long history together, dating back to a halcyon time when they were young, happy and single. Now approaching middle age, they are navigating difficult relationships that feel like a response to the loneliness left after the loss of their youthful closeness. But, as they chat about diets and Dublin life, the facts are fleeting and shifting. The women’s stories emerge as fragments of their past and present come out in what Cora calls their “deep chats”. Some details are left obscure or unspoken, suggesting painful memories that none of them can talk about. This makes The Approach, with its compact 65-minute running time, an intense experience like trying to pick apart the puzzle of an overhead conversation.

The strength of the production lies in three restrained but subtly powerful performances from Cathy Belton, Aisling O’Sullivan and Derbhle Crotty. Directed by the author, they turn the seemingly everyday chats into an exquisitely nuanced exploration of complex relationships where past traumas and resentments have put up frustrating barriers to genuine closeness.

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