Drill Hall Arts Centre, London WC1
Opened 7 March, 1995

Much great art springs from suffering, but little suffering generates great art. Tammis Day has written a play about alcoholics, recovering and otherwise, which is rooted in her own experience. At the risk of seeming to trivialise such an ordeal, though, it has to be said that her transparent involvement in her material is Eclipse's undoing.

Former actor Katherine, sober for two years in her island cabin off the coast of Maine, is visited by her oldest friend and never-quite-lover, metropolitan novelist Helena, whose idea of a hearty breakfast is a fifth of Stolichnaya. Helena's Bavarian ex and Katherine's tower-of-strength best friend serve to flesh out the events, but at root the play is a spurious dialectic between the author's Before and After selves: in the identification stakes, Helena gets material success and rhetorical periods, while Katherine enjoys all the best one-liners and the obvious moral centre.

Hazel Maycock as Katherine gets through an awkward, stilted opening scene laden with exposition and pregnant hints of the "There's something I ought to tell you about me" variety to settle into a kind of Judy Bryant figure: stoically self-deprecating and candid about the tensions in her own life.  Even without such a one-sided script, Maycock's performance would wholly overshadow Mary McCusker as paralytic sophisticate Helena. What is intended as a defensive veneer of mannered cynicism comes across simply as infuriating histrionics; McCusker squanders any tolerance we may have had for Helena long before Day doles out the obligatory second-act redemptive gleam of humanity.

Ursula Jones is serviceably down-home as the token straight Pamela; Sladjana Vujovic is a little uncomfortable portraying lesbian predatoriness, but relaxes into an assured performance as Monika. (Vujovic's Montenegrin accent also provides an inadvertently surreal moment: when she catalogues the paltry amenities of the island hamlet, for a crazy instant "One gas station" sounds like "One gestation." But it's not that sort of lesbian play...)

A muted, call-it-a-draw ending does nothing to lessen the script's homiletics. Eclipse is, sadly, just devoid of drama, and Day's pained and passionate message flops as limply as a dead seal.

Written for the London Evening Standard.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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