One living death; one saved by the gods
- My Real Life, Viking Theatre, Clontarf, Dublin
- The Return of Ulysses, Watergate, Kilkenny
A sad, funny take on suicide, and the glory of baroque gave Emer O'Kelly a good week.
Eoin Colfer is an object lesson in the value of truth-telling. His Artemis Fowl youngsters' books feature a kid who's close to being a monster; the books have made Colfer world famous, and have coincidentally made him rather rich. Certainly a lot more famous and a lot richer than writers who offer heavily moralistic tales featuring politically-correct high-minded prigs.
So it follows that his take on suicide is liable to be what might be called unconventional. Far from pursing his literary lips and bemoaning the fact that anyone should ever consider the deed both sensible and courageous, Colfer's My Real Life, directed by Ben Barnes and playing at the Viking in Clontarf in Dublin, gives us a man at the end of his tether.
He has multiple sclerosis, can barely walk, and has use of only one arm. His speech is increasingly slurred. And while he's still in a position to do so, he is about to kill himself. No clouds of rage or fear hang over Noel (Don Wycherley) as he gives us his only occasionally wistful take on Wexford life and love.
Now in youngish middle-age and with the certainty that the future is about to end for him, he's at peace. But there is a glow about the past; his first "shift" at Kilmore Quay, at the age of 14, with a mind-blowingly sophisticated lassie from Dublin who invites him behind the pier as a reward for having (entirely accidentally) saved his best mate from a grave that might have been, but wasn't, watery. He's a bleedin' hero, she tells him.
The mate in question is now to be the recipient of a tape Noel is making as his own memorial. Without illusion, he brushes aside the courage he has had to summon up, but faces squarely the inevitable downside of every suicide: the overwhelming selfishness of it.
He begs his friend to take care of his mother. No such request is made about the main "other character" in his life, his beloved Rose whom he lived with for five years before blowing his chances with one crass, inarticulate gesture when she most needed him. But as he fades, it is Rose who floats forgivingly before Noel's dimming eyes, as she has lived in his heart in the years in between.
The play is full of lugubrious, "hard man" jokes, as Noel finds the dignity and courage to mock himself and his life.
After his diagnosis, he goes into work at the taxi depot where he has been the butt of jokes for his clumsiness: "MS! Who's laughing now?" he roars.
And as played by Don Wycherley, My Real Life makes you teeter on the edge of the grave with stupid, loving Noel, your empathy following on his journey, whatever its outcome.
We don't hear enough early music in Ireland ever to become blase about its performance. So when Opera Collective Ireland joined the Kilkenny Arts Festival to produce Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses, with an English libretto by Christopher Cowell, the mere fact gave it an A for effort.
Audiences in the Watergate Theatre in Kilkenny (the production will play two performances in the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire next month) were given a treat of classicism that overcame all obstacles of small-scale staging and gave voice to an almost entirely Irish cast of younger singers (the modus vivendi of Opera Collective) that went on to ensure that all efforts had been justly rewarded.
With Akademie fur Alte Musik from Berlin playing from the stage, conducted by Christian Curnyn, director Patrick Mason had little enough space to weave the larger-than-life characters into a whole. The solution was a scaffolded gallery across the stage where the scenes on Olympus were played, as well as providing a platform for the goddess Minerva to steer the chariot carrying Telemaco home to give his mother the good news that Ulysses lives. Land and sea were represented at stage level, with Neptune (a bluff sea-dog with cap and boots) vigorously sung by Alan Ewing, confronting the silk dressing-gown clad Jove (Andrew Boushell) above him.
Penelope, an impressively restrained Raphaela Mangan, who flowered into flowingly resonant romantic sweetness in the final love duet, conveyed her long self-imposed incarceration in the palace on Ithaca by means of a scarlet housecoat. Never fully dressed, she is never "of" her court as her three suitors swirl around her, attempting to make her forget her absent husband.
Re-united with his mother after his journey across the heavens, the boy Telemaco (Andrew Gavin) dons his royal authority in the uniform of a young Air Force Flying Officer, while Minerva (a beautifully dominant vocal presence from Emma Morwood) sits above him in flying helmet, a joystick in her hands: chariots can be modernised.
The Hungarian baritone Gyula Nagy is an impressively forceful Ulysses, with his acting good enough to ensure that the eye never leaves him as he crouches vengefully awaiting the revelations which will give him back his wife and his kingdom.
And Rory Musgrave's shepherd Eumete is as effective as Ross Scanlan's disgustingly funny court glutton.
A total of five performances: it's to be hoped there can be more if the company can be re-assembled for other venues. Ulysses deserves it.
Sunday Indo Living