Saturday 18 November 2017

Dinosaurs, Monsters, and self-therapy

  • Running with Dinosaurs, New Theatre, Dublin
  • Have I No Mouth, Pavilion, Dun Laoghaire
  • Monster? Theatre Upstairs, Dublin
Masterly dialogue: From left, Rory Dignam, Eimear Keating, Aislinn Ní Uallacháin, Wes S Doyle and Daniel Monaghan in 'Running with Dinosaurs' at the New Theatre until April 29
Masterly dialogue: From left, Rory Dignam, Eimear Keating, Aislinn Ní Uallacháin, Wes S Doyle and Daniel Monaghan in 'Running with Dinosaurs' at the New Theatre until April 29

Emer O'Kelly

A week of too much self-indulgent theatre, says our reviewer.

The first thing to be said about Nadine Flynn is that she can certainly write: her grasp of dialogue is masterly. But that's not quite enough to carry her first play Running with Dinosaurs to a successful conclusion.

Set in the badlands of Dublin's inner-city "culture", it portrays a good-hearted family struggling against dysfunction, with Grandad reluctantly consigned to a nursing home because he accepts that it's wrong for his 24-year-old granddaughter to have to share a bedroom with her mother.

But from there the unwieldy plotline doesn't stand up. Siobhan's trainee detective garda boyfriend lures her 20-ish brother (who seems more naive than the average 12-year-old) into drug-running to suit his nefarious ends. Tragedy ensues, of course, but Flynn hasn't quite made up her mind whether it's family loyalty, pre-destined nurture, or plain idiocy which destroys us.

It's a Gladeye Production at the New Theatre, and is directed with impressive aplomb and spirit by Lee Wilson, with particularly convincing performances from Daniel Monaghan as the naive patsy, Jay, and Eimear Keating as his beleaguered sister. There's excellent support, too, from Aislinn Ni Uallachain, Wesley Doyle, Rory Dignam and Tom Leavey.

*******

There was a time when people with hideous physical disabilities put themselves on display in peep shows. They had no choice: it was that or starvation. We no longer tolerate such barbarity; but in this day of unbridled public "confession", it sometimes seems that emotional peep shows have taken their place.

In Have I No Mouth, Feidlim Cannon is the only actor onstage. He is joined, however, by his mother and by a professional psychotherapist and together the three perform a scripted, directed, and staged examination of the emotional effects of the deaths of his day-old baby brother when he (Feidlim) was six years old, and the apparently unnecessary death of his beloved father post-surgery while the adult Feidlim was in London on holiday with his girlfriend.

The show opened with the psychotherapist instructing the audience to join him in a relaxation procedure. Unbelievably, most of them did; I just felt my chest tightening at what felt like exploitation. A further "exercise" involving "anger management" with balloon-blowing was introduced at a later stage.

Cannon is not the first actor- writer to use personal tragedy as a trigger for art - but the involvement of non-professionals in their own personas is, to put it mildly, unusual. And it seems more than surprising that a mental health professional would find themselves being scripted and directed for public paid entertainment.

Have I No Mouth is a co-production between Project Arts Centre and Brokentalkers, playing at the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire. The audience gave it a standing ovation, clearly not sharing my sense of grubby violation at the self-indulgent emotional voyeur-ism thrust upon me.

*******

Monster? seems to be one of those infantile and infantilising feminist polemics about women having unlimited rights and absolutely no responsibilities, for themselves or anyone else. (Because, of course, everything's the fault of either nature or men). Emily Gillmor Murphy certainly doesn't seem to have anything else to say, in her rambling text for EGM Productions at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin.

Nell and Ru work in a trendy bar which seems to sell more dope than it does drink. Ru is bi-sexual, and his best sex is when his wife is furious with him for having been with a man (an embarrassing supposed representation by Michael Glenn Murphy). Nell (an unnecessarily aggressive Aisling O'Meara) is absolutely powerfully, belligerently, determined that she does not want to be a mother.

So she splits up with her boyfriend, but gets plastered (a litre of vodka) and has casual, consensual sex with a garda who frequents the bar. It doesn't seem to have occurred to her creator that maybe the premise is a bit false: women determined not to get pregnant usually make sure they don't. It's 2017. But, of course, Nell "falls" pregnant.

Cue a long period of on-stage drivel when Nell and Ru tell the audience tearful fairy stories vaguely based on Grimm. And then Nell tells the garda all about the pregnancy despite her determination not to have anything to do with him. And he wants to do what society still believes to be "the decent thing": marry her. This is apparently contemptible and insulting.

But Ru saves the day: his best (gay) mates have just got married and desperately want a baby, so hey presto, Nell can give them her baby and everything will end happily.

The "monster" bit comes in when the nice garda (Jamie O'Neill) calls Nell a monster for not wanting children. Most people would have called her a lot worse had she ever existed.

Karl Shiels directs.

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