Wednesday 16 October 2019

Citysong at Abbey Theatre: Poetic love letter to the capital has lyrical breadth


Abbey Theatre, Dublin until tonight

Dramatic energy: Citysong at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo Ros Kavanagh
Dramatic energy: Citysong at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo Ros Kavanagh

Katy Hayes

Set designer Sarah Bacon's map, etched on to a mirror backdrop, gives us a bird's-eye view of Dublin. Playwright Dylan Coburn Gray, making his Abbey debut, uses this view to tell his story, as he swoops down on various people at various stages of their lives.

The language is highly playful, sounds caressed and tricked about with, influenced by the likes of Emmet Kirwan, whose writing has also migrated from spoken word to a more formal theatrical setting. In Coburn Gray's script, the taxi drivers, for example, are engaged in "rank banter". Amnesty workers "stoically anorak onwards". Much of this is very impressive in a poetic sense, as the words point in several directions all at once.

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The dramatic energy is at first broadly scattered as we meet a variety of people; in particular we meet a taxi driver married to a nurse. There is a suggestion that this character will draw the picture together. But then we meet others, John and Fiona, brazen back-seat lovers; a tipsy teenage daughter. Finally, the show focuses on one particular family: a pair of teachers, Kate and Rob, who celebrate the birth to their first child. Kate's mother Bridget is drifting into Alzheimer's disease, and can no longer clearly recognise them. The cast of six hop in and out of roles, occasionally embodying a distinct character, sometimes chirping in with a few lines to create another cameo, always mustering a skilful ensemble energy.

Director Caitríona McLaughlin tackles this material with gusto, crafting compelling scenarios out of the little micro-dramas encountered along the way. The bunches of school kids are terrific; the groaning and bellowing women in the maternity ward are a particular highlight; the various discos and dances are beautifully staged, with bodies to the rear of the space gracefully picked out by Paul Keogan's never-missing-a-trick lighting design.

This form of episodic storytelling structure has its dramatic problems. The actors must jump in and out of character so often, the performances lack potency. Whilst Bridget's Alzheimer's is clearly portrayed, it is never emotionally affecting. The main characters are so lightly sketched, you never get a sense that you know them. But the 90 minutes whiz by, stuffed to the gills with people and events. When the taxi driver reappears at the end of the play, he seems a distant memory. For some, the lack of in-depth characters will be a price worth paying for the lyrical language and broad, poetic canvas. Others will be less happy with the trade-off.


Wedding day blues in the west

Appropriate Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin Until today

Katy Hayes

Sorcha is a west-of-Ireland girl who has had her whole life planned out since childhood. Her cap is set early on finding herself a county-star hurling player and she has tipped off the local jeweller that she wants an emerald in her engagement ring.

She enters the Bewley's stage in a fluster, taking refuge from her own wedding reception, suffering from a panic attack.

In the presence of the audience, she teases out the origins of her alienation. We are given a hilarious account of her debs, and hear all about the early days of her crush on husband Marty and her manipulation of his windswept proposal at the Cliffs of Moher.

Then there is the uneasy dawning sense that she has been acting out of social compulsion rather than personal choice.

This 50-minute likeable one-woman lunchtime show is written and acted by Sarah-Jane Scott. She is a winning performer and makes a charming job of bringing this kooky character to life, ably directed by Paul Meade. But the material is too familiar to really cause a stir. A propensity for violence in Sorcha is hinted at, but not developed.

In shying away from confronting the darker, more problematic aspects of her life, Sorcha is not reaching her potential. The same could be said about the play.

Katy Hayes

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