Tuesday 25 October 2016

Theatre: Contrasts of Moonlight

Emer O'Kelly

Published 07/09/2015 | 02:30

Lise-Ann McLoughlin plays Rose Fleming in Moonlight.
Lise-Ann McLoughlin plays Rose Fleming in Moonlight.
Geraldine Plunkett appears in Waiting

There are one-woman monologue plays; and then there are one-woman monologue plays by Jennifer Johnston. I've seen a lot, ranging from the abysmal to the sparkling and truly accomplished. But when one of our leading novelists, herself steeped in theatrical tradition, puts her pen to the service of the stage, the result is shimmering.

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Eska Riada have produced Moonlight and Music and Waiting at the new Dolmen pub theatre in Cornelscourt in Dublin, and the result is spectacular.

In Moonlight and Music, Lise-Ann McLoughlin (an actor of whom we don't see enough) plays Rose Fleming, a teacher who has just been sacked because there have been complaints about her drinking, and some involuntary use of "language." Her drinking is indeed real: it's one of the loves of her life. The other is literature and her burning passion to share its joys with those of her sixth-formers open to receiving it.

Now it's too late, and as Rose meanders drunkenly through her first evening of a freedom she never wanted, we learn why, and the horror that has made her know that she will never be able to allow a man to touch her: hence the drinking.

It could be trite; but in Johnston's hands, a single sentence can, and does, stop you in your tracks as you identify with its spare revelation of a haunted girlhood and maternal indifference.

In Waiting, Geraldine Plunkett plays a placid older woman in a hospital waiting room. Outside the ward where her husband is dying, she chronicles the mundane (it seems) story of their lives together, expecting little as they worked in the little shop in London they built together after emigration from Sandycove in Dublin.

Yes, he took to the drink, but even that was a quiet affair, and anyway she had her cousin for comradeship, and they went to the cinema together every Tuesday in Shepherd's Bush while he was in the pub. Until the evening she came home early: just once.

And saw something that should have altered everything. But it didn't: a marriage built on mundane pleasantness and nice neighbours has no place for passion, whether of rage or joy. (Perhaps a smidgin more remembered bewilderment wouldn't go astray in Plunkett's performance, however. )

But otherwise, this is utterly wonderful theatre under Caroline FitzGerald's direction: mastery of language and emotion at work on the simplest of scales.


There is no pleasure in suggesting that New York must have lost its mind if the co-production between Rathmore and Patrick Talbot of Fly Me to the Moon by Marie Jones received rave reviews, as the programme for its run at the Gaiety in Dublin suggests.

It's a tired, obvious farce, stylistically dated, and based on a tasteless notion which could only be funny if dealt with in the form of black comedy.

Two feisty (oh God!) Belfast care workers find the recipient of their care dead in his bathroom, and decide to do his bank account at the ATM because, being part of the struggling working class, they "deserve" it; then they find he's just won 500 on a horse, and also collect his winnings at the bookie's. Meantime the corpse is fast stiffening in the bathroom.

Cue realisation that post- mortems show up times of death, and DNA shows whether beds have been slept in or not, and the pair start to disintegrate: cue hilarity, followed by sweetly sentimental ending.

This unfunny farrago with its sledgehammer humour is not helped by two leadenly "one, two, three, punch the joke" performances by Tara Lynne O'Neill and Katie Tumelty, for whom the piece was apparently written as a vehicle of "strong roles for women,"….God help us.

Production wise, actors who need to be microphoned have no place on the professional stage, and a piece which runs for two hours including interval, when it would be pushed to move along effectively in one hour, stands sadly in need of a dramaturg.

The title stems from the fact that the dead Danny was a Frank Sinatra fan, as though that had anything to do with anything.

The author directs.


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