The English playwright Ben Power is arguably still a wunderkind at the age of 32, with a dazzling writing career which began in his mid-twenties. He was 28 when he wrote A Tender Thing for the Royal Shakespeare Company following a stint at Headlong, and is now an associate director at the National. The play has now received an Irish premiere from Siren Productions at Project in Dublin.
Modestly titled an 'adaptation' of Romeo and Juliet, the play is both more and less than that: it extends the range of the greatest love story in the English, and possibly any, language; but it is also a faithful endorsement and rendition of Shakespeare's sentiment and definition of erotic love in all its complexities. Power avoids the egregiously fashionable practice of 'improving' on the Bard.
Instead, he gives us the lovers of Verona, having escaped their early entombment to live a long life together informed by their brush with death, and thus deeply aware of every flicker of tenderness, every fluctuation of mood, every palpitation of the dangers that lurk to destroy passion.
He does it by nuancing the original text and adding from sonnets and other plays to give us a composite of Shakespeare's electrifying vision of love. His language surrounds us, reaches into our 21st Century and explains itself through the last terrible weeks of Juliet's life as she tries to take control of the destiny cancer has laid down for her and her broken-hearted husband.
This is not a play for the faint-hearted: if you can't take reality, stay away. But if you want a terrifying, heart-stopping exploration of the meaning of love, triumphant in all its tragedy, this is a breathtaking theatrical experience. In the hands of Olwen Fouere and Owen Roe, what objectively can seem like the monstrous indignities of physical disintegration become love-songs (I do not exaggerate) as Romeo sponges down his wife's frail, naked body after she has soiled herself.
I would argue with the author's decision to let us off the hook by ending with a flash-back to the golden moment of the first meeting between the boy and girl, blinded and dazzled and full of joy: the tremulous past is already living in the agonised present.
Other than that, directed by Selina Cartmell, with a choral score by Marc Teitler sung by Resurgam, in a splendidly mundane set by Monica Frawley lit by Sinead Wallace, this production is indeed a soaringly tender thing.
* * * * *
One would wonder why the Decadent Theatre Company has revived Martin McDonagh's A Skull in Connemara, which began a national tour this week at the Gaiety in Dublin, were it not for the fact that the opening night audience gave it a rousing reception. But even a lavatorial sense of humour, one would imagine, would be sated by a ten-minute sequence which discusses the relative merits of drowning in vomit or 'wee'.
The play is the second in McDonagh's hugely successful Leenane Trilogy, and dates from 1998; but it has received less attention than the Beauty Queen... or The Lonesome West.
It presages much of the latter, however, which was to repeat the scenes of pot-valiant and psychotic bowsies squaring up to each other with demands to withdraw insults in convoluted 'Oirish' dialogue, which admirers consider pastiche Synge and others consider an arguably ignorant English take on classic Irish drama. And it repeats the character of a psychotic schoolboy from the Beauty Queen... He merely has a different name this time round.
Also, despite its caricaturist nature, the play has managed to date rather badly, its supposedly contemporary references managing to take it out of whatever weird time-frame existed at the time of its first production.
That said, Decadent offer an entirely competent production, with Garrett Keogh and Maria McDermottroe in top form, Keogh as the murderous gravedigger tasked with clearing surplus skeletons from the local graveyard for 'interment' in the nearest lake, and McDermottroe as his poitin-tippling nemesis.
Jarlath Tivnan and Patrick Ryan complete the cast as the afore-mentioned psychotic schoolboy and the vengeful, and of course psychotic, local garda. Both do well, but are less easy in their performances.
Andrew Flynn directs, with excellent set design by Owen MacCarthaigh and lighting by Sinead McKenna.
* * * * *
Mark Wale's The Dig is the latest monologue offering in what has become the seemingly unending stream of 'plays' (performed short stories) caused by recessionary production budgets and the desperation of fledgling (and not-so-fledgling) actors to get on stage in an overcrowded profession.
One of the reasons it is over-crowded, unfortunately, is that there is damn-all rigour in this country in accepting young men and women into drama school. Young hopefuls without any hope of ever making a living hit the streets and the McDonald's jobs queue each year or indulge in almost inevitably unsuccessful vanity production of poorly performed poor work.
But sometimes one sees a gleam of light, and Wale's play ( a Yes production at lunchtime at the Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin) is one such.
It's a fantasy of no hope, as a man is fired by his thuggish brother-in-law from his runner/office-boy job in the building trade and evicted from the house in which he and his wife live.
With no money and no collateral he decides to make it on his own by building a dream home in a field in Kildare, which was said brother-in-law's wedding present. The ease by which everything seems to come together is initially irritating for the audience, but it is all a build-up to ultimate self-delusion and tragedy.
Wale has considerable word mastery, and with an energetic and feeling performance from Declan Mills under Tara Derrington's direction, the piece surmounts the monologue limitations with a fair amount of skill.