Tuesday 22 October 2019

My Aunt Bee: An Irish emigrant returns home to shake things up

My Aunt Bee

Viking Theatre, Dublin  Until June 29

Delivery from America: O’Rourke and Ní Chaoimh in My Aunt Bee
Delivery from America: O’Rourke and Ní Chaoimh in My Aunt Bee

Katy Hayes

Myles is alone and forlorn in his house; his children grown and gone and the recent death of his wife, followed by the even more recent death of his mother, has taken a toll. A secondary school teacher by profession, and a "thinking man", he is stuck in the chair, grieving, armed with only a stack of empty pizza boxes. The double-hit of the two deaths challenges his ability to bounce back. The living room has a pervading air of gloom, the pictures and mirrors all covered with white sheets.

His Aunt Beatrice returns from Arkansas. She is almost 100 years of age. Apparently drawn back by the news of her sister's death, this is Bee's first return to Ireland since her departure, aged 18, in 1937. She is a loud-mouth and a vodka enthusiast, and quickly boots Myles out of his grief-induced torpor.

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Writer Seamus O'Rourke continues his series of vignettes on rural Irish lives, capturing a downtrodden and oppressed people whose spirit bubbles up to rescue them from small-town annihilation. He is drawn to the underdog, and the tempo of his writing captures an unmistakably Irish mixture of timidity and assertiveness. Aunt Bee describes growing up in a large family in a tiny cottage: "Every year I lived there, I got shoved a little closer to the door." Emigration to America functioned as "an overflow pipe" for Irish large families.

Myles, shattered by the recent deaths, confronts the nature of his relationship with his wife Lisa, whose lingering illness over two years took its toll. He wonders if the pair had just "settled for each other". Aunt Bee has no time for his maudlin meanderings. She is one of nature's action-women, and, with an agenda of her own, wants to borrow Myles' car.

Directed with tremendous emotional clarity by Laura Dowdall for the Viking Theatre and Big Guerilla Productions, the mood of the play is carefully nuanced. Bairbre Ní Chaoimh as Aunt Bee and O'Rourke himself act out the bristling dynamic between with gusto and charm. Though set in the present, with Myles making use of his mobile phone, the heart of this play beats very much in the last century.

O'Rourke has groomed an audience for his writing, with his committed realism, careful plotting, and engaging, humorous characters. There is much satisfaction to be found here. But there is also a frustration that the canvas he uses is small, and there is a sense that his imagination is chomping at the bit of this limitation, without achieving the necessary freedom to fully break out.


Political comedy needs more politics

Brendan Galileo for Europe

Bewley's Café Theatre, Dublin Until July 6

Katy Hayes

First produced as part of the 'Show in a Bag' initiative in last year's Dublin Fringe Festival, Fionn Foley's one-man show is a surreal jaunt through the political landscape of Galway West.

Brendan, a failed Dáil candidate, decides to run for the European Parliament in an attempt to stop his grandmother's music school from being levelled to make room for luxury apartments for racehorses. To raise his profile as a candidate, he will first enter the Eurovision Song Contest.

Foley and director Jeda de Brí deliver this zany material with great inventiveness; in particular, Foley's own sound design adds a whole other dimension. He performs lots of impressive cameos, including his grandmother, Bab, a Michael D Higgins sound-alike. There are some good jabs at local politics and the rituals of the Galway tent. EU regulations are blamed for the music school shut-down and Brendan appears at first to produce an anti-EU song. There is also a side-swipe at Brexit.

But a debilitating political uncertainty lies at the heart of the work. Political comedy needs a more pointed focus; this show pokes at issues, rather than having anything fundamental to say about them. It is impressively performed and delivered, but the package hasn't much inside.


Katy Hayes

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