Review: Pheromone (LipZinc, online)

A pheromone is a chemical reaction affecting behaviour, which appears in LipZinc’s new production (streaming until 23 May at in the person of a woman who causes a revolution at number 19, the home of David and Eva. 

This play by Tzarini Meyler, who also appears in the play and co-directs, is set in an Ireland of the 1950s. David (played by Eoin O’Sullivan), aged 36, lives at home with his mother, Eva (played by Martina McCormack). She was abandoned by David’s father years ago, left to raise the small child. At first it is hard to understand the dynamics of what is going on: Eva both worships her son and grinds him into the ground. 

When Eva first appears, David is entertaining a lady friend, Dawn (co-director Kate Conboy-Fischer). Eva is dressed inappropriately and dissuades Dawn from any interest in her son by talking of his temper and violence. However, this tale of domestic abuse is not what you think. It is more about the psychological and physical power a mother has over her son, an odd mechanism she uses to keep from being alone.  

David and his mother have a special bond because they only have each other, and their relationship thrives on guilt and manipulation. When Ruth (played by Meyler), a new girlfriend, comes into the picture, the dynamic shifts even further. Is it a case of ‘better the devil you know?’ 

Martina McCormack and Eoin O'Sullivan in Pheromone

The piece utilises a range of music from the period from wartime through rock and roll and love songs. These musical interludes, often lip synched, both move the action along and give a private insight into the characters, particularly that of Eva, who appears initially monstrous but who is blighted by personal pain.  

Pheromone is not an easy watch. It is deeply uncomfortable to address violence in the home from any viewpoint, but here, where our preconceptions are challenged, the play shifts into a place of great strength and power in its second half. Set in a couple of rooms in a claustrophobic house (designed by Ruairi MacMaoilir, lit by Colin Doran), we feel as trapped as the characters who live there, who have crafted a prison of their own making. In one scene, we hear an altercation develop off-screen, which makes it more disturbing.  

The ending is particularly chilling as one element of control is replaced by another. The sound design by Shane Kelly Lester adds to the general feeling of voyeurism on the part of the audience, who are unwilling observers to a warped domestic situation behind closed doors. 

You can watch Pheromone until 23 May 2021 – book tickets at .

It was filmed at the New Theatre, Dublin and runs two hours. A ticket gets you 24 hours access to the streamed recording. 

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Pheromone.