Sunday 19 November 2017

Dark secrets and insecurities revealed

Theatre

Nyree Yergainharsian and Emmet Kirwan in The Good Father at Axis.
Nyree Yergainharsian and Emmet Kirwan in The Good Father at Axis.

Emer O'Kelly

Hazel and Graham both stammer when they speak. We don't know it initially, because they are talking to us in their heads. It's only when they describe their attempts at "real" interchange that "normal" speech deserts them. An odd similarity, really: because they live very different lives.

Graham lives in the family home in rural Ireland, where he has been caring for their father, who has just died. A shadowy figure, the father, even before his body was struck down with cancer.

Hazel is Graham's twin, born a couple of minutes after him; she has a degree and an office job where she seems to have some level of authority, despite her desperate social insecurities. And she is on her way home for the funeral.

Katie McCann's Hollow Ground picks apart the lives and the nightmares of people destroyed by the unspeakable and unthinkable, in this case an event which screams against nature. No wonder Graham and Hazel stammer; and no wonder communication is drowned by the hammers of memory.

McCann's play is a powerful piece of work, absolutely credible and masterfully constructed, with remarkable performances from the author as Hazel, and Rex Ryan as Graham. They are tautly, indeed superbly directed by Karl Shiels, in a terrific set by Laura Honan, lit with pitiless effect by Eoghan Carrick.

Hollow Ground is at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin, in a co-production with Illustrated Productions.

Christian O'Reilly's The Good Father is fifteen years old; but it stands up well. Originally produced by Druid, it has been revived in a new in-house production at Axis in Ballymun.

It was the author's first full play, and shows some of the faults of that status: the first half is seriously over-written. Nonetheless, it is as impressive now as it was in 2002.

The Good Father explores the complexities of twenty first century relationships, highs as well as lows, and above all our own expectations of both. Jane and Tim meet at a New Year party. Both are drunk and lonely: he feels out of place because everybody else is middle-class, and he's a house painter. She's been dumped (at the age of 33) by her long time boyfriend just as she's arranging the wedding ceremony. Some uncomplicated sex seems like a part solution.

But biology includes the pro-creative urge as Tim, who has been given bad news about his fertility, is learning the hard way.

O'Reilly handles anger and bewilderment very well; above all he handles our aching need for affirmation very well indeed.

He interrogates us gently, demanding to know how far we will go in search of the haven of love, and just how much deceit we are prepared to perpetrate in the search, and suffer in the resolution. A sad, happy little saga.

It's terrifically played by Nyree Yergainharsian and Emmet Kirwan, directed by Axis artistic director Mark O'Brien.

Sunday Independent

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