Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Saturday 23 June 2018

A debut full of promise

Porcelain, Peacock Stage, Abbey Theatre, until March 10

Catríona Ennis as Sarah in Porcelain. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Catríona Ennis as Sarah in Porcelain. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Katy Hayes

It's good to see a meaty new play in the Peacock stage that lasts 90 minutes and has the ambition and vision of the best Irish writers.

Margaret Perry's debut opens with the sound of a very annoying crying baby, who gets periodically louder and almost drowns out the fire announcement. Hat (Lola Petticrew), the mother of the baby, is an Irishwoman in her mid-twenties living in London. She awkwardly meets up with her cousin Sarah (Caitríona Ennis), who has recently lost a baby in perinatal death, and is still traumatised by grief. Hat hands over her baby, Joy, to Sarah for adoption. Hat is in the grip of post-natal depression. But we don't know this yet.

This dramatic opening precedes flashbacks to Hat's move from Tipperary to London, her romance with Bill (Bamshad Abedi-Amin) and the subsequent pregnancy and birth of Joy - these scenes of romance and budding domesticity are excellent. Parallel to this strand runs an account of Bridget Cleary (Toni O'Rourke) and her husband Michael (Keith McErlean). Bridget is a late 19th-century historical figure who was burned to death by her husband when he suspected her of being a witch. Bridget and Michael are played as a timeless, somewhat old-fashioned couple enduring marriage breakdown. On a visit home, Hat explains to Bill her fascination with Bridget Cleary, who is from her local area in Tipperary.

The third element is a surreal character called Silvertongue (Helen Norton). Perry creates a brilliant modus for investigating the psychological shape of depression through this character of a shapeshifter, who appears variously as a hairdresser, a yoga guru, and a direct manifestation of post-natal depression. These passages are the best written and most dramatically engaged. They strenuously investigate Hat's psychological state, creating real drama and interior conflict.

The weakest writing is in the Bridget and Michael passages. He is a spectacularly dreary husband who is mainly characterised by being bad tempered. Bridget is also cranky. And to drive this home, they have equally dreary costumes.

The set design by Cécile Trémoliéres is strange. It is a bland domestic interior, but often doubles as a café or bar, not very effectively. Offstage to the rear is a mountainscape, with a red iron ladder attached to the back wall, only visible to the audience seated on the right and never used. It doesn't seem to serve the drama.

Sound by Denis Clohessy and lighting by Paul Keogan occasionally signal a supernatural element, which chimes well with the psychological content.

Director Cathal Cleary shapes the individual scenes with skill, but hasn't found a way to draw all the disparate elements into a coherent whole.

This debut play has terrific ingredients and fascinating subject matter, and there is real skill in some of the writing. If Perry's play doesn't fully succeed, it is an honourable failure, with a lot going for it.

Book it now...

1  HOLY MARY

Viking Theatre, Clontarf, Feb 27 — Mar 17

Lots of great talent involved here: script by Eoin Colfer; performances by Maeve Fitzgerald and Mary Murray; direction by Aoife Spillane-Hinks. Story of First Communion confusion and consternation.

2 LIVES IN TRANSLATION

Civic Theatre, Tallaght, Feb 27 & 28, then tours

Kabosh theatre presents this new play by Rosemary Jenkinson based on the testimony of Somali asylum seekers in Ireland. It follows one woman’s journey from Mogadishu. Tours to Drogheda, Ballymun, Galway and Dundalk.

3 LATE AT THE GATE

Gate, Dublin, Mar 2 & 3, ongoing

Angry young Irishman Emmet Kirwan responds to John Osborne’s play with this 10.30pm show; it plays weekend nights for the rest of the run. An innovative experiment in theatrical auto-critique.

Unmissable take on transgender experience

Review: Scorch, Project Arts Centre, until March 3

Stacey Gregg's 60-minute play from 2015 is an exploration of a young person's experience of being transgender told with delicate tenderness and affecting humour.

The audience enters the Project's cube space, the chairs are arranged in a circle. A linoleum-cut grid is the playing area, and above it is a perspex shape. This absorbs coloured-light changes, which shift with sound cues, creating subtle changes of mood as Kes relates the story.

The performer, Amy McAllister, is seated incognito among the audience. She suddenly starts a series of jerky movements in a most beguiling dance sequence. This choreography by Nicola Curry conveys the complicated nature of Kes's ambiguous feelings towards his own body so well.

McAllister then gets up and addresses the group. Gregg's script uses the format of a support-group meeting circle to contain Kes's dramatic story of growing up a girl, but feeling like a boy. There is a powerful description of the emergence of unwanted breasts like the eruption of the creatures in the movie Alien.

Teenage Kes, whose identity online is easily fudged, falls in love with a girl and they arrange to meet in real life. Gregg's script so wisely captures the moral complexity of the situation, where Kes does not feel a fraud expressing himself as a young man, but the girl he meets sees it differently and ultimately feels assaulted. The play was written in response to court case about just such an allegation of gender 'fraud'.

McAllister's performance is profoundly touching. Problems wash over her face creating ripples of expressivity. But despite the character's struggles, and the unwitting criminality involved, irrepressible positivity is the dominant mood.

Emma Jordan directs for Prime cut with perfect emotional judgement. Ciaran Bagnall's set and lights combine elegantly with Carl Kennedy's sound design to create an effective simulacrum of the on-line experience. A highly enjoyable encounter with a very singular kind of life story. Not to be missed.

Katy Hayes

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