The Beacon: The Irish mother on stage gets a makeover as an abstract artist
The Beacon Gate Theatre, Dublin Until Oct 26
The artist mother is an intriguing figure; we are used to male characters selfishly pursuing their art at the expense of family, but we don't often get female ones. Druid, in a co-production with Gate Theatre, continues its season of new writing with this intriguing family drama by Nancy Harris.
Set on an island off the coast of West Cork, artist Beiv (Jane Brennan) is renovating her holiday home. The cottage originally belonged to her husband, a native of the area, who died 10 years ago in mysterious circumstances. They were separated but remained close.
A week prior to his death, he had changed his will, favouring his ex-wife. It all smells a bit fishy and there is much hostile local gossip. A failed attempt to establish a women's artist collective, what others called a lesbian commune, has not endeared Beiv to the island community. Although she does retain the loyalty of some locals, including Donal (Ian-Lloyd Anderson), the gay young man who is helping with renovations, Beiv insists she has nothing to hide. She leaves a skull on her doorstep to freak out the snoopers.
Into this tension-filled locale arrives Beiv's thirty-something son Colm (Marty Rea) on honeymoon with his much younger American wife Bonnie (Rae Gray). The play deals with the psychological fallout from Beiv having put her artistic pursuits ahead of her husband and child. Rea subtly captures the emotional jolt of being helplessly catapulted back to childhood. Brennan's ruthless performance is a reminder of how unused we are to seeing women making no effort to appear likeable or mumsy. Colm sees the hard streak in her and suspects the local gossips are right; that she may well have killed his father. But Colm has complexities and cruelties of his own. We learn that he and Donal were lovers when younger; and that he brushed the islander off when it suited him.
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Francis O'Connor's set design is a triumph, with its stone walls, stripped roof beams and vast window perfectly reflecting the play's theme of exposure. The panoramic views allow lighting designer James F Ingalls to create a wealth of gorgeous skyscapes at the rear of the stage, long grasses fluttering in the wind.
The narrative tension is expertly maintained by Harris and director Garry Hynes, as bits of the puzzle are drip-fed to the audience. Colm does not know how to read his mother's abstract art, referring to it as "blobs" and "splodges". She is impenetrable to him. The denouement, when it comes, is highly satisfying. This complicated art reflects complicated lives.
Children's show is totally sound
The Haircut! The Ark, Dublin Until Nov 2
This is a delightful version of The King with the Donkey's Ears, in its Irish incarnation as the story of King Labhraidh Loingseach. A young boy cuts the king's hair, but must keep the knowledge of the king's donkey ears secret, or he will be executed. The secret burns him up inside, so he cracks and whispers it to a tree.
Written and directed by Wayne Jordan with Tom Lane directing the music and composing, this is a sound-focussed telling of the story. Thommas Kane Byrne is the storyteller, acting out all of the characters with variety and brio. He is accompanied on stage by three musicians, Berginald Rash on clarinet, Lioba Petrie on cello and Nicola Ciccarelli on percussion. There is much sophisticated amplification of voices and music; a variety of noises, including those of a hairdryer and scissors, are sculpted into impressive soundscapes, almost like a Foley studio. Kane Byrne's jokey presence is a real winner with the youngsters.
Set and costume designer Sarah Bacon kits everyone out in smartish black jackets, giving the proceedings a fun-formal air. Aimed at the 8+ age group, this slick show combines old-fashioned storytelling with musical and audio sophistication; an entertaining hour that'll satisfy the most exacting of smaller critics.