Since its 2007 debut, Mark O’Rowe’s Terminus has impressed and bewildered audiences in equal measure. Three figures loom out of the murk of one long night in Dublin, telling their stories in assonant rhymes that evoke a slam poetry night in a dive bar, and as their weaving monologues interlock, the audience is given little respite from the vivid and often grotesque images conjured as the characters rise, one by one, to recite their own stories.
O’Rowe’s unyielding tempo and the unwavering deliveries of the cast ensure that all the audience needs to do is to listen, and be transported.
North of Eight’s cast is riveting from the first. Emma Louise Pursey delivers a resolute A, an ex-schoolteacher hell-bent on saving a former pupil from a brutal back-alley abortion.
Sarah Clarke brings us an emotional and relatable B, the schoolteacher’s daughter, who ventures into the night seeking company and is dragged into the divine pursuit of a soul escaped from hell. Scott Major elicits sympathy, laughs, and silent horror as C, a shy serial killer who has sold his soul to the Devil for the voice of an angel.
The name of the play promises an interwoven stopping point, and, though long at a hundred minutes with no interval, it keeps the audience captivated as the three stories wend ever closer to one another, sometimes touching, sometimes slamming together with a satisfying crunch. The audience, suspended in time for a moment with B as she falls from a construction crane, or with A, as she is hit with a chair in a bar, suddenly find themselves thrown into the jarring lyrical description of a grisly murder, or plummeting through the earth with a demon.
Having avoided the word ‘gritty’ so far, I will refrain from describing the emotional journey as a ‘rollercoaster’, but the twists and turns are certainly enough to leave you feeling dizzy.
As B, Clarke carries the surreal descent from the dark streets of the city into the bowels of hell on her shoulders. Entirely hers, the burden of marrying this fantasy to what seems like two stories from an entirely different genre seems light and easy; she moves from describing a night out on the town to a blossoming relationship with a demon made of worms with ease, and her conviction more than sells this difficult pairing.
Major makes us fall in love with the classic roguish charm of an Irishman despite the heinous crimes C is describing, and we cry with Pursey as she reveals A’s self-made bereavement and her immense guilt over her broken relationship with her daughter. But Clarke has every eye and ear as she pulls the audience down into hell with her and her demon, and she does not lose anyone’s focus until it is C’s turn to stand and continue his story.
Critics of Terminus often cite a lack of meaning or purpose as a point of particular frustration. O’Rowe’s play summons imagery of salvation and damnation, life and death, heaven and hell, but does not seem to have a whole lot to say about them.
However, the sheer satisfaction of listening to O’Rowe’s brilliant poetry, and the rhythm of the cast’s delivery, casts dramatic action out and pivots upon the act storytelling, rather than a predictable procession to a moral conclusion.
North of Eight’s cast deliver spectacularly, and anyone can forgive a couple of momentary lapses of the Irish accent for such an enthralling, gruesome, and gratifying production by three talented performers.