Friday 28 April 2017

Theatre: Wistful faces of Dublin, centuries apart

* Dubliners Women, New Theatre, Dublin
* Room for Two, Dolmen Theatre Cornelscourt

Madi O'Carroll and Gordon Quigley in 'Dubliners Women'
Madi O'Carroll and Gordon Quigley in 'Dubliners Women'
Geraldine Plunkett and Emma Willis in 'Room for Two'

Emer O'Kelly

How does a company make its choices when staging only three of Joyce's Dubliners stories?

All of the 15 stories set the bar for short story perfection. And almost inevitably, the longest of them - The Dead - will be included. Equally inevitably, it will always dominate in a compendium, since apart from anything else, it is more novella than short story.

But Katie O'Kelly has left it out, choosing The Boarding House, Clay, and Eveline for adaptation in the New Theatre production in Dublin - and they make for a delicate, balanced, and wistful evening of theatre.

The stories are not adapted textually - they are 'told' by the three cast members, with the staging providing the dramatic input. And a fine one it is, by director Sarah Baxter.

It opens on a bare stage, onto which O'Kelly and Madi O'Carroll tumble, lugging suitcases, one of which contains fellow actor Gordon Quigley.

And from the cases spew, as required, various bits and pieces for a mise-en-scene of Edwardian Dublin.

The actors are dressed in (extremely) grubby underwear (designed by Barbara McCarthy); and armed with nothing more, they take the audience through the three stories with a vibrant sense of time, place and mood.

We live the machinations of the terrifying Mrs Mooney as she works her way inexorably towards her goal of getting her (slightly) wayward daughter Polly married off, against the backdrop of her (more than slightly) seedy boarding house.

We follow timid, hook-nosed old laundress Maria as she treks across the city on Halloween night for her ultimate treat - an evening spent with her former nurseling Joe Donnelly and his boisterous family, only to suffer valiantly-hidden humiliation at their hands.

And we agonise with Eveline, downtrodden, bullied, and deprived by her drunken father, but offered a kind of salvation when a sailor wants to take her with him to South America.

Seldom can a struggle between dreary duty and tremulous hope have been as well-painted in a short story, and the three actors wring every ounce of dull misery from the denouement.

Joyce was a genius, we know that. And I have no hesitation in writing that he would have felt his immortal stories well served by this production, lit (by Cathy O'Carroll) as well as it is directed and played.

*******

Ger Gallagher's first play Weighing In has been doing the rounds very successfully for several years. Weighing In was slight, predictable - and frankly, a bit cheesy.

Her second play, Worth, was a lot tougher, and a lot more thought-provoking, while maintaining its 'slice of life' format.

Her third play Room for Two has now opened at the Dolmen Theatre in Cornelscourt, Dublin, and if she keeps going on her upward trajectory, she has one hell of a future as an author of topical, well-made plays about recognisable subjects.

Dorothy Jolly is… well, a snotty bitch - full of social notions even while incarcerated in a mental hospital for stalking and threatening a man who has taken her fancy after her husband left her for a younger woman.

Carla Temple is a schoolgirl about to sit her Leaving Certificate exam when her tumultuous and tragic home life proves too much for her, and she tries to kill herself.

Under treatment in the same mental hospital, she is "imposed" on Dorothy as a room-mate, and neither woman likes it.

It could all be a bit cosy and happy- ever-after as the women work through their misery and fear to establish both a relationship and a compromise with the society which in separate ways has betrayed them both.

But Gallagher avoids the pitfalls sometimes to be expected from plays aimed at providing "a good night out".

There are more than a few bitter truths in Room for Two, and no easy solutions suggested for Dorothy and Carla, the one doomed and knowing it "underneath"; the other teetering on the edge of a pit into which she may fall at any time, with only her youth preventing her from seeing the yawning depths.

Director Caroline FitzGerald gets full value from the script, and achieves strikingly empathetic performances from her actors, newcomer Emma Willis as the aggressively terrified Carla, and 'veteran' Geraldine Plunkett as the valiantly struggling Dorothy.

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