Wednesday 12 December 2018

Dignity and the right to silence

  • Rathmines Road, Peacock Theatre
  • St Nicholas, Smock Alley
From left, Charlie Bonner, Janet Moran, Enda Oates, Rebecca Root and Karen Ardiff in 'Rathmines Road' by Deirdre Kinahan
From left, Charlie Bonner, Janet Moran, Enda Oates, Rebecca Root and Karen Ardiff in 'Rathmines Road' by Deirdre Kinahan

Splendid performances in clever, witty plays — it’s been a fine festival, writes Emer O’Kelly.

Even in 2018, there is still a body of opinion (mostly male, but not exclusively) that believes that a woman walking alone at night is "asking for it".

So way back in 1993, if a young woman snogged publicly at length with her boyfriend at a party, and then disappeared into a bedroom to have sex with him, was she "asking" to be held down by another man, and brutally raped by a third, as well as having her nose broken during the attack? And whatever the rights and wrongs, would it inevitably destroy her life?

Those are the questions (particularly the last) posed by Deirdre Kinahan's new play Rathmines Road (at the Peacock in a co-production between the Abbey and Fishamble). And she interrogates them admirably through credible characters and their separate credible anguish.

Sandra, victim of the long ago violent rape, is back in Dublin from London, where she is happily married to Ray with two young children. Her parents are dead and the family home has to be sold. Naturally, she contacts old school friend Linda who happens to be an estate agent. Linda arrives with her own husband in tow - and he is instantly recognised by Sandra as the man who violated her.

Kinahan deals with the horror in putative sequences as Sandra plays out the possible scenarios and their consequences in her head. They all seem to have only one outcome: that Eddie, who does not even recall his terrible crime and can't accept that it is a crime in the first place, will be the only one to walk away without being damaged.

The central question overrides all: will speaking out in our new climate of sexual honesty mean Sandra pays an even greater price than she has already paid in her haunted dreams? Will justice instead become vengeance, and will it devastate her own life and many more?

Modern feminist theory would say speak and be damned to all: your story must be heard, whatever the price. But there are thousands of Sandras out there who also believe in the right to silence. And Kinahan's play raises their courageous shadows. Because to carry the haunting within yourself forever can be the courageous way - maybe a lot more courageous and dignified than to be heralded on social media as a feminist heroine.

Technically, the addition of transgendered old schoolfriend Dairne in the mix seems a bit extraneous, and there are awkwardnesses in construction - but overall Rathmines Road is a fine play that (unusually in Kinahan's work) doesn't offer tidy redemption.

Karen Ardiff leads a splendid cast under Jim Culleton's direction: Charlie Bonner as Eddie, Enda Oates as Ray, Janet Moran as Linda and Rebecca Root as Dairne.

*******

Yes, vampires exist. For theists of various kinds, they are the living dead, the personification of evil on earth. For the doubters and the rationalists they are the mocking shadows of the fears they have yet to confront.

In 1996, it took a young playwright called Conor McPherson to bring them rationally alive, mocking them while acknowledging their power. His play was called St Nicholas, and not merely did it dissect the vampires, it gave them being: they are all of our personal devils, controlling us with their malevolence, while seducing us with their seemingly irresistible siren songs.

The protagonist of St Nicholas is a theatre critic, boozy, powerful, pretentious, lousy husband, worse father (and not nearly as powerful as he believes). And the vampires are waiting for him.

Running, always running, from self-knowledge, from truth, above all from the fragility of reality. Running into the arms of the whiskey, the pint, the wine, the easy arms of the imagined surcease of sex. Yes, the vampires are waiting.

McPherson turns this tale of a lost soul into what at times is an hilarious tale of mind fantasy as his protagonist, seeking escape from the edifice of disgust and hypocrisy that his life has become, pursues a fantasy actress from Dublin to London, only to fall into the grasp of a vampire sect who co-opt him as their pimp. In return for "room and board" - even an elegant study - he will tour the night spots, seducing the young and beautiful into forgotten nights in the home of William, the lead vampire. They will never remember what has happened, except the vampire bites will be there.

We all have our devils, McPherson says; and until we confront them, we can't squeeze the poison out of the vampire bites. In this allegory, it's booze, but it could be anything.

In St Nicholas, Conor McPherson presents a whole world of philosophy: you lose count of the pearls of wisdom (usually in the funniest lines) as he finally reminds us that we reflect ourselves, and we'd better stop blaming the world outside ourselves.

It's a clever, witty play, given a marvellous new production from the Donmar Warehouse, and with a performance from Brendan Coyle that is an object lesson in stage-craft. It is not, however, (as claimed) an Irish premiere: Brian Cox originally played the role of the theatre critic at the Beckett Centre in Trinity.

At Smock Alley, it's directed by Simon Evans, designed by Peter McKintosh, with lighting and sound respectively by Matt Daw and Christopher Shutt.

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