Friday 23 March 2018

A misguided revival

Siobhán Cullen as Alison; Kate Stanley Brennan as Olive, and Amy McElhatton as Tilly in Crestfall
Siobhán Cullen as Alison; Kate Stanley Brennan as Olive, and Amy McElhatton as Tilly in Crestfall
Pauline McLynn and Owen Roe in William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

Katy Hayes

Monologue plays are limited in scope. They leave little to the imagination. The audience doesn't have to figure anything out because the actors tell you what is going on. They have to be very brilliant to overcome the limitations of the form.

Crestfall by Mark O'Rowe was first produced in 2003 at the Gate Theatre. It is been revived by Druid, directed by Annabelle Comyn. We meet three women, denizens of a small town whose lives are intertwined. The action takes place over a day. Olive is having sex with Alison's husband. Alison's child was damaged by a kick to the head from a horse. Tilly is in love with her pimp, who has fathered Olive's child. There is a herd of wild dogs running about, and a sadistic one-eyed man who owns a three-eyed dog. The monologues are written in rhyme.

Kate Stanley Brennan starts the ball rolling with her punchy interpretation of Olive, a difficult, sexually rapacious woman. Her promiscuity is caused by her being sexually abused as a child. We know this because she tells us. Stanley Brennan has charisma aplenty, and carries the material with force and conviction.

The second monologue is Siobhán Cullen as the young mother Alison, who strikes quieter tones and presents a more vulnerable, introverted persona. Cullen gives this character a complex vulnerability.

And the third performance is by Amy McElhatton as the prostitute Tilly. She works a bit of magic in concentrating on Tilly's internal sweetness, but isn't entirely convincing as a junkie; she looks the picture of good health. Designer Aedín Cosgrove creates a sense of entrapment by placing the three women in a shipping container, subtly drawing the current refugee crisis into the picture.

Doreen McKenna costumes the women in identical smocks, giving them an institutionalised feel. Soundscape by Philip Stewart adds tension and atmosphere with a gentle artificiality. Thus, the play has been stripped of its realism, and given a broad archetypal feel, like a Greek tragedy where the drama is written with bold strokes. This is one way to tackle the challenges of melodrama that the play poses.

But the writing is highly problematic. Everything is explained. There is no subtlety. The only available drama is violence, to which the women are all subjected, like a trio of walking bruises. If the violence was removed from the scenario, there would be almost nothing left. The writing has the classic young-writer flaw of relishing sadistic detail, like a kid with a knife in a jam factory.

It's hard to see why this particular play would be chosen for revival from among all the great plays that sleep unmolested in the graveyard of Irish drama. Druid's artistic director Garry Hynes directed the original production at the Gate and her determined loyalty to the piece is understandable. Comyn makes a valiant attempt to counteract the flaws in the writing by creating a mythic, symbolic context, but the play's lack of finesse makes it a heavy evening.

Stage Whispers...

Pauline McLynn and Owen Roe in William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew

Rough Magic Theatre Company have donated their 33-year-old archive to the Library at Trinity College Dublin. The young Rough Magic shook up Irish theatre three decades ago with productions like Caryl Churchill's Top Girls at the Project Arts Centre, when a spirited Anne Enright as Dull Gret traversed the stage to plunge her sword into the ground, staking the claim of a new generation.

The leaky roof of the old Project added the special effect of rain dripping down the back of the audience's necks. Since then, Rough Magic and director Lynne Parker have broken much fresh ground with world and Irish premières, including The Train, a musical by Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan, on the Abbey Stage earlier this year. A recent favourite was Pauline McLynn and Owen Roe in William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew.

Trinity, the alma mater of the Rough Magic founders, will be delighted to add to their theatrical holdings, which include John Millington Synge, Tom Murphy, John B Keane and the Pike Theatre, amongst other goodies. University libraries love archives, as they attract scholars from home and abroad. Another substantial Irish theatrical archive is to be found at NUI Galway, which has hoovered up the Abbey and recent Gate papers. NUI Galway's holdings include Druid and the Lyric Theatre and the playwright Thomas Kilroy. Frank McGuinness's papers are in University College Dublin, while Teresa Deevy's archive is in NUI Maynooth and Brian Friel's papers are to be found at Dublin's National Library.

But much material has gone abroad. To study Lady Gregory in depth, you must go to the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. The earlier Gate archive from the time of Hilton Edwards and Micheál Mac Liammóir is in Northwestern University, Illinois. It is a shame so much important material has emigrated. Companies and individuals should be encouraged to deposit their archives at home.

Book it now


New Theatre, Dublin, August 15 – 26

This family drama by Michael Marshall is about an older brother who is forced to assume a parent’s role while still a minor himself. It first saw the light of day as a Druid debut. This production is directed by Laura Bowler.


Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin, August 15 – 26

A musical tale about everybody’s favourite Gothic family. Wednesday Addams has fallen in love with a nice boy from a respectable family. Gomez knows all about it but Morticia has been kept in the dark. The two families meet for dinner.

3 THE RIVALS                                                                           

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, until Sept 2

An important canonical play, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy of manners was first seen in Smock Alley in 1775. Mrs Malaprop guides niece Lydia Languish in the matter of romance. Directed by Liam Halligan.

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