Thursday 14 December 2017

Beware the well-named crow collective

* A Murder of Crows, Theatre Upstairs at Lanigans, Eden Quay
* It's a Wonderful Bleedin' Life, Bewley's Theatre, Powerscourt

Chilling performances by Aisling O'Meara, Amilia Stewart and Katie Honan in Murder of Crows
Chilling performances by Aisling O'Meara, Amilia Stewart and Katie Honan in Murder of Crows

Emer O'Kelly

Gruesome savagery or Christmas redemption in contrasting plays this week

Sitting through Lee Coffey's new play A Murder of Crows is akin to spending an hour in a filthy cellar with lice crawling over you. Is it worth it? Yes; definitely.

It's a three hander of young women, all of whom play a number of roles.

The starting point is recognisable: they are "condemned", as bolshie, undesirable and disruptive pupils at school, to attend a sort of re-training boot camp with other young people from other schools, somewhere in wooded country at a lake-side.

Except with hormones surging, Sam, Jess, and Dee have ideas outside specialised tutoring on the (presumably) Leaving Cert Course. And when the guiding light, the teacher who has organised it all, takes her eyes off them, nature takes its course: with inevitable, horrible results.

Admittedly, there is a credibility problem: one can't imagine any school authority being so irresponsible or plain idiotic to put youngsters in such an explosive situation. But this, after all, is a fantasy: an imagining of what happens when the crows take over (shades of Hitchcock's The Birds).

This could be yet another unimaginative theatrical photograph of the average wild weekend indulged in or imagined by teenagers. But in Coffey's creative hands, it becomes an utterly believable nightmare of abusive savagery, a cross between Apocalypse Now and Lord of the Flies.

That the horror is so well created on a small stage with minimal effects is one hell of a tribute to the three actors, Aisling O'Meara, Amilia Stewart and Katie Honan; and even more so to the tight rein of director Karl Shiels.

It's a Bitter Like a Lemon production in co-operation with the production house at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin, splendidly and eerily designed by Naomi Faugnan and lit by Laura Honan.

In the programme note to the new production of his play It's a Wonderful Bleedin' Life, Gary Duggan writes that one positive result from the horrors of the financial crash may be that we look out for each other a little better now.

One can only hope so, but somehow it would probably seem to the average observer that greed and chicanery continue unabated, with those practising it not even bothering to lurk in the undergrowth anymore as society lurches to the right, and the most brutal rather than the fittest, survive.

A high percentage of people will probably watch the perennial Christmas classic movie on television this month, as Jimmy Stewart re-discovers that It's a Wonderful Life in small town America during the Great Depression, pulled back from the brink of suicide by an unlikely guardian angel called Clarence, who is patiently waiting for his wings, and who shows him that the world would have been a shabbier place without him.

Duggan has brought the piece up to date, put it on the hill of Howth on Christmas Eve in the depths of the crash in Ireland, where Georgie has messed up big time in his finances and his job, and is about to throw himself off the cliff, believing that the world will be better off without him. His guardian angel is called Laurence (a nod to Dublin's patron saint?) and is true Dub laconic rather than mildly gentle.

It's short, it's sweet, and it's played beautifully by Gerard Byrne as Laurence and Stephen Kelly as Georgie, directed by the author, in a design by Beata Barylka lit by Colm Maher. Maybe it's a bit too sweet for its own good, but heck, it's Christmas.

It's at Bewley's Café Theatre at Powerscourt in Dublin.

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