‘The play is about power’ - Bernard Field discusses The Early Hours

FIVE YEARS after its premiere, Bernard Field’s tense psycho-drama, The Early Hours, returns to the Town Hall Studio next week in a new production from Field’s own Haw Theatre Company.

Set in Dublin, the play centres on a charged encounter between an ex-pat American lawyer, Kate, and a man, known only as The Intruder, who breaks into her apartment. Over a fraught night Kate’s home becomes a prison where the intruder is the warden. These events then become the subject of a criminal investigation by Inspector Pearse, but his motivations are themselves open to question. To quote from the review by Irish Theatre Magazine: “The Early Hours haunts its audience with questions about the issues it evokes and about its own elusive story.”

Ahead of the play’s revival, I asked Bernard what prompted him to bring it back for this new run. “It had a couple of productions in the last while,” he begins. “There was one in Dublin in January last year, and I felt they got a bit side-tracked with the issues; they really didn’t focus head-on on the core issues of the play in my opinion.

Field says The Early Hours core issues are about power; physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, manipulation, and violence. “It is about the abuse of power and position, the fear of violence which can almost be worse than violence itself,” he says. “The play is also about the ambiguity of how we perceive things, one and the same event viewed from different angles. We colour things to suit ourselves and to fit our own narrative which is another form of abuse, we’re rationalising things to suit ourselves. For me, it is really about a power struggle.”

Field believes these core issues “relate to a lot of stuff that is in the zeitgeist at the moment”. “I wanted to look at the play again in the light of the production I did five years ago, and also the one that was done last year,” he says. “That really gave me an insight, to concentrate on what is really important within the play, and that is why I wanted to do it now.”

The play’s central character Kate is played by Sharon Prendeville. “I found some actors who were willing to put themselves on the line, it is quite a demanding play to do, particularly for the lead character of Kate,” says Field. “I was lucky enough to get Sharon to do the role and she is absolutely fantastic, she takes on the role in an uncompromising way. That is why it is a good time to do it now.”

Inspector Pearse has a major bearing on events and is quite prepared to manipulate things for his own ends. “He is a nihilistic character,” Field observes. “He’s judge, jury, and executioner. He decides what went on, what should be done about it, how blame should be apportioned, and he’s making it up as he goes along really which is the ultimate abuse of power.”

The Intruder is also an ambiguous figure, can his explanations be taken at face value or is he also trying to manipulate people and circumstances? “Is it a façade, what does he think is going on?” Field notes. “There is definitely a quality of delusion about the character, he can show a benevolent side even though at the end of the day I don’t know. He has incarcerated Kate in the apartment all night long and taken advantage of her, but he seems to have the power to convince himself that what has actually gone on is maybe something different. What’s his agenda? He is either super-smart or very mixed up, that is what we are trying to figure out.”

The play does not offer any easy answers as the events at its core are presented via the filters of the characters’ different perceptions or versions.

“There are two things going on in the play,” Field concurs. “There is an actual event and then there is how the characters choose how to describe it. The first part of the play is about an actual event in real time and the second part, when the Inspector comes on the scene, is the narrative that is invented around that actual invent, how we perceive it, how we label it, justify it, rationalise it, and what the consequences should be. That all becomes another event in itself, because in the stand-off between the Inspector and Kate they are ostensibly talking about the events that happened previously but there is a power struggle going on between them as well, which is layered on top of what actually happened.”

The cast is Sharon Prendeville (Kate ), Bernard Field (Inspector Pearse ), and Conor Field (The Intruder ), who is also Bernard’s nephew. Field directs the play, with Ian Patterson as assistant director.

“This is an adult show,” Field concludes. “There are strong themes there which some people might find distressing. It’s a very grown up play. Previous productions have been very well received, we’ve had great audience feedback, I’ve even had letters about it, it generates a lot of questions and conversation.”

The Early Hours runs at the Town Hall Studio from Tuesday May 5 to Saturday 9 at 8.30pm. Tickets are €10/8 from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie

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