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Enda Walsh’s therapeutic drama session enthrals and entertains

Medicine at Black Box Theatre, Galway until Sept 18

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Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine, written and directed by Enda Walsh. Photo by Jess Shurte

Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine, written and directed by Enda Walsh. Photo by Jess Shurte

Dizzying range: Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine. Photo by Jess Shurte

Dizzying range: Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine. Photo by Jess Shurte

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Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine, written and directed by Enda Walsh. Photo by Jess Shurte

‘To walk hand in hand with another” — that is the wishful fantasy of John, incarcerated indefinitely in a psychiatric institution. Enda Walsh’s new play, produced by Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival, is a portrait of a damaged man suffering mental torture but yearning for the experience of love.

We meet John during a performance therapy session. Two actors, both called Mary, are here to do a workshop, acting out his traumas in pursuit of emotional enlightenment. The space, designed by Jamie Vartan, is an institutional room. It’s clear there was a staff party the previous evening and the detritus has not been tidied away.

John has written a script, containing stories from his youth, about harsh parents, social ostracisation and the agony of being bullied. The two Marys’ job is to act out these ghastly scenes from the past.

Clare Barrett’s Mary 2 is a narcissistic bully, and the role showcases her major comic talents. Aoife Duffin as Mary 1 has a dizzying range, cartoonish one minute, emotionally true the next. They are like a pair of clowns. Costumes include wigs, false eyebrows and a lobster outfit. Domhnall Gleeson performs the tormented John like a live bruise: the suffering feels authentic, the madness feels real. The trio of actors are joined on stage by drummer Seán Carpio, whose big sound matches these big emotions. The show has a hugely sophisticated sound design (by Helen Atkinson), including voiceovers to which the actors mime, popular disco songs and original music by Teho Teardo.

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Dizzying range: Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine. Photo by Jess Shurte

Dizzying range: Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine. Photo by Jess Shurte

Dizzying range: Aoife Duffin and Domhnall Gleeson in Medicine. Photo by Jess Shurte

When asked why he is incarcerated here, John says it is because he’s “not like other people”. Walsh’s plays are not like other people’s plays. You could point to Beckett’s absurdism as a precedent but it’s only part of the story. Walsh the writer seems to be drawn to anguish and pain but Walsh the director has a ruthless showman’s instinct. The show is very funny.

The play is about the role of art in the processing of human trauma. The two Marys’ work is haphazard, half-hearted, and messy, but it is still oddly helpful in accessing truth. At the end of the 90-minute session, John has received a small degree of comfort. We the audience, however, have been enthralled.

High-flyers mix fearlessness and fantasy

A Handful of Dreams at Commercial Boat Club, Galway
until tomorrow

The desire to fly is as old as humankind. Seeing birds darting and gliding about overhead is a bit of a provocation to us heavy-boned mammals. Aerial dance company Fidget Feet create a fantastical mix of fearlessness, fantasy and flight in this magical show for Galway International Arts Festival. It has a druidic feel: the dancers are like wood sprites and the music by Jym Daly and Thomas Johnston is dominated by Irish pipes, flute and percussion.

The show starts with a little girl in a grey dress who twirls the piper around the interior of a high dome-shaped rig. They are joined by five dancers in earthy shades of orange, blue, green, yellow and purple. The dancers are lifted from the ground by a series of pulleys and fly about overhead with grace and ease; the movement is full of joy. A highlight of the dancing is an airborne hoop dance routine. The spirit of the Celtic revival is invoked via WB Yeats’ poem The Stolen Child.

It is designed for a family audience and director Chantal McCormick adds a charming nugget of wisdom to the general delightfulness. “Enjoy what we have already, and not what we’re going to have or should have,” says the child’s voice.

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The 30-minute show is rounded off by a lesson for the audience in how to dance The Walls of Limerick. We may not all be able to fly, but we can all at least dance.


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