Friday 17 January 2020

Admin at Smock Alley Theatre: Irishman in London traces emotional map of loneliness

Admin Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

Until tonight

Stage presence: Oisín McKenna in Admin. Photo by Róisín Murphy
Stage presence: Oisín McKenna in Admin. Photo by Róisín Murphy

Katy Hayes

First Fortnight, Ireland's Mental Health Art & Culture Festival, brings a variety of events to venues around the country during January. The festival brightens the darkest month, replacing the outward lights of Christmas festivity with the inner sparks of creativity and stimulation.

Oisín McKenna's one-man show premiered in the Dublin Fringe Festival last autumn; it returns here making a valuable contribution to the theme of isolation and loneliness, a focus of this year's festival. Perched on an impossibly high stool, McKenna is an appealing stage presence with a warm, unguarded voice.

The 60-minute monologue opens and closes with verse sections, but the majority of the material has the accessible tone of low-key narrative realism. We hear about the life of this Irish gay man working in an office in London, desperate for human connection. He meets a nice guy, Joe, and falls for him; but true intimacy remains elusive, as Joe doesn't appear to have monogamy on his mind. McKenna's character is simultaneously utterly contemporary and gently old-fashioned.

The show is especially good at capturing the texture of life for current twentysomethings; their left/right political orthodoxies, the pressure to conform to "correct" opinions, the instinct to Instagram. Every day is an exhausting litany of push-notifications and bombardment from eBay. Forging connection is confounded by the problem that Wednesday is too early to make arrangements for the weekend. McKenna's character has the millennial quality of being hyper self-aware; but this self-knowledge is currently a hindrance, rather than a help, in his search for love.

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Anna Clock's deft audio design creates a dramatic mental soundscape, punctuating the action with notification pings, bits of Abba music and atmospherics. Michael Hankin's set design is simple but beautiful: a constant stream of falling glitter, accumulating as a heap of shiny dust on the floor. Director Darren Sinnott steers the performer towards a sense of true storytelling intimacy.

McKenna's script is heartfelt, and captures a sense of loneliness perfectly; but whilst emotionally brave, it is dramatically timid. Thus, when his isolation and heartbreak turns into a destructive depression, the amiable narrative style feels inadequate to the depth of the dramatic task. But this is still a very affecting show, that reveals a lot about the intricate workings of the emotional brain and the difficulty of finding true connection in our hyper-connected world.


A comic route to the heart of tragedy

In One Eye, Out the Other Smock Alley Boys' School, Dublin Until tonight; Tours to Cork City on Jan 16; Carrick-on-Shannon on Jan 17; and Newbridge on Jan 18

Tadhg Hickey's monologue play has many of the qualities of a stand-up comedy show; his delivery has a comedian's timing, and the 50-minute script is full of one-liner gags. We meet Fergal, a drinker from a long line of alcoholics. He tells us about his life, his crazy boozy Cork family, his misfit status.

The story takes a surreal turn as Fergal fills his empty flat with old toys and statues to keep himself company. He creates fantasy friendships with a number of female sporting heroes, including Sonia O'Sullivan, Katie Taylor and Michelle Smith de Bruin. His neglectful boozed-up mother, whom he still loves with the affection of a small child, is a complex and toxic presence in the mix. When the twist in the tale comes, it creates a dramatic jolt, and catapults the evening into the stark realms of tragedy.

This CCCahoots production, which also had its first outing at the Dublin Fringe Festival, is both funny and poignant. Director/dramaturg John McCarthy makes a vital contribution in shaping Hickey's daring and risky performance. This is exciting work, with real emotional reach, and a clever dramatic take on its dark alcoholic substance.

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