Tuesday 15 October 2019

Citysong at the Abbey: Open heart surgery on Dublin city

Citysong is a tender lovesong to Dublin's spirit, says Emer O'Kelly

Dan Monaghan, Daryl McCormack and Clare McKenna in Citysong by Dylan Coburn Gray at the Abbey. Photo: Ros Kavanagh
Dan Monaghan, Daryl McCormack and Clare McKenna in Citysong by Dylan Coburn Gray at the Abbey. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

There's an element of car crash in Dylan Coburn Gray's Citysong at the Abbey, in co-production with London's Soho Theatre, and touring to Galway Arts Festival.

Little more than 90 minutes long, it traces three generations of a Dublin family through a single day, with members of each of the generations recalling parts of their pasts, living their presents and anticipating their futures (sometimes fearfully), played out over a narrator's voice. Confusion is inevitable.

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

To add further to the confusions, the narrator's role switches between members of the cast as things move along. So it's a bit of a mess structurally. But that can't hide the warmth, the compassion and the pride in place and people that Coburn Gray brings to his scenario.

The play begins, conventionally enough for such a study, with a late-night taxi driver observing the city centre as it beats around him, from the lovers "doing it" in his back seat to what's going on in the streets outside.

We move to a labour ward in "the bad old days", with women as baby machines, and with dark remembrances of friends and fellow patients who didn't, or whose babies didn't, survive the experience. All human life is there, as the tabloids used say.

Perhaps the most touching scenes are those featuring a grandmother coming to the end, her short-term memory blurred (she can't differentiate between her grandson and her carer) but recalling her happier days when sex was initiated with "Would you like a kiss?" And even when intimacy was threatened after the loss of a child through miscarriage, love remained. It's beautifully drawn and acted.

All the cast are quite splendidly nuanced in their various characters. Director Caitriona McLaughlin is seamlessly at one with the author - though that may be a fault, as a slightly slower pace would be less impressionistic and leave time for absorption.

Sarah Bacon's set is fascinating: a fragmented and dark mirror, a cross between a map of Dublin and an explosion of dreams. It is lit by Paul Keogan's mood lighting and the mood music is by Adrienne Quartly.


"The world is changing and people want to hear stories about women like me," Kiah Ronaldson's Maud Gonne MacBride confides at the start of Annie Keegan's Gonne at the New Theatre in Dublin.

It's 'woman as persecuted and silenced victim' again. But there's never been any lack of stories about the self-styled revolutionary who was also the lifelong muse of WB Yeats.

As is common nowadays, it's suggested she was unfairly overshadowed by Willie and without his malignantly selfish shadow she would have been a major writer. Wrong: she would barely have been a dot in history were it not for her reflection through Yeats.

The premise is that the characters use modern idiom (intrusive and ugly in its usage of US TV-induced language) and send up Yeats as self-obsessed, vain and bombastic, literally pushing him off-stage each time he tries to muscle in on the action. No harm in that: it's a fairly accurate depiction of the man. It could also, some might say, be a fairly accurate description of his muse.

It's also presented as high comedy, with a final whinge from Maud as to how unappreciated she's been all her life. (That's supposed to be the serious bit.)

Unfortunately, the funny bit isn't funny, with the three actors (there's also Simon Geaney as Yeats and Aoibhin Murphy as both Augusta Gregory and John MacBride) mostly shouting and pulling faces - that's not acting. It's enthusiastic, but juvenile.

There is no company credit, and while the group may become talented actors in the future, it's not on display here. Nor is there the rigour of good direction, which is by Grainne Holmes Blumenthal.

Sunday Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top