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Five Gold Rings
by Lizzie Loveridge

And I am loving him.
Until light waves fall to beaches.
Until leap years stumble home.

--- Freyja
Five Gold Rings
Will Keen, David Calder and Damian Lewis
(Photo: John Haynes)

Joanna Laurens' debut was at London's tiny Gate Theatre with The Three Birds. This translation from a fragment in the original Greek won praise because of its use of descriptive and vibrant language; her exciting imagery raising it well out of the ordinary. Laurens' Five Gold Rings, her second play based on a dysfunctional family, has her stamp of originality. The artificiality of her words can be difficult, but it has a poetic quality that stays with you. In fact it wouldn't surprise me to see Joanna Laurens' Five Gold Rings nominated for a poetry prize.

The family which gathers for Christmas is the ultimate in dysfunction. Henry (David Calder) lives in the desert waiting for his adulterous wife to return. She never will and he has secretly impoverished himself by giving her all his money. His two sons, who live in the city, are Daniel (Damian Lewis) who is unhappily married to Freyja (Indira Varma) and Simon (Will Keen) who has had a vasectomy denying children to his wife Miranda (Helen McCrory). Daniel has fallen for Miranda and she in turn hopes that he will give her a child. So if each of these characters is wearing a wedding ring, there would be five gold rings symbolising not love and fidelity, but pain and betrayal. So often when love is broken, money becomes crucially important to the combatants.

Some of Miss Laurens' sexual imagery of a loveless marriage penetrates, twisting and searing. Daniel says, "There is nothing wrong with me/ but lack of love for her/ but lack of lust for her . . . I lie to her. But not on her." And to his undesired wife, Freyja, "There's no point in you lying like a wishbone, always lowering the looped horns of youandus uterus at me; legs open for a man as soft as cheese!" And about the other woman Daniel loves, "Is like to be without skin, to be without the person you love.

Michael Attenborough has directed his cast of top notch actors expertly but the language stilts rather than liberates them. It is almost as if the world is not yet ready for Joanna Laurens' startling and gut wrenching voices. Damian Lewis' final memorable scene when he relates his experience of child abuse is heart breaking as he twitches in distress. The bare bones set starts as a broad swathe of orange lighting but changes to a blue night sky, conveying the openness, the exposure of these people in the emotional as well as physical desert that is their family. The Monopoly game has been left unfinished since the last visit, a hanging image

Five Gold Rings
Written by Joanna Laurens
Directed by Michael Attenborough

Starring: David Calder, Damian Lewis, Indira Varma, Helen McCrory, Will Keen
Designer: Es Devlin
Lighting Designer: Adam Silverman
Sound: John Leonard
Music: Adam Cork
Movement: Jane Gibson
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7359 4404
Booking to 17th January 2004.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th December 2003 Performance at the Almeida, Almeida Street, London N1(Tube: Angel)
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