The Everyman on demand
There’s a touch of the kitchen sink about Deirdre Kinahan’s The Saviour: it seems at times throughout the play that the kitchen sink is the only thing that isn’t in the mix.
It starts a bit Molly Bloom-ish. Máire is sitting in bed, having a post-coital fag, and smirking a bit. And she’s congratulating herself because, after all, this is her 67th birthday, and she was a widow for a long time before Martin came into her life.
Her life? Oh, yes. It began poor but happy. And then Mammy died. And Daddy wasn’t able to cope, like so many widowed fathers of his day. So she was brought to Stanhope Street. There’s a silent drum roll as the dreaded name is brought out, and we know what is to come.
Daddy thought it was a kind of private school where she’d learn to look after herself and graduate to a good job.
The reality, as Ireland knows now, was far different.
She, like all the other children and young women there were slaves to the nuns, working relentlessly and unpaid in the laundry.
She saw her friend Annie, who slept in the next bed (they were brutally punished for speaking to each other) drop dead in the middle of the steam-filled laundry.
The recipient of all this confidence is Jesus (a touch of the Shirley Valentines, although being English, Shirley talked to the wallpaper instead of Jesus).
“It was the mercy of God I had you, Jesus,” Máire confides. And she reminds him that he is nothing like the nuns’ Jesus, who was hard and harsh.
Her entirely different Jesus forgives everything, understands everything, and allows you to have what you want without condemnation. Her Jesus is very accommodating, although that’s not a word Máire would know. He has no objection to Martin being in her bed.
She talks to Jesus because Mel won’t listen. Mel is one of her sons. Sorrowfully, she confides to Jesus that her children have all turned their backs on religion, but thanks to the arrival of the good man Martin in her life, they’ll all be together again sometime.
She met Martin in church, where he watched her as she cleared up after a First Communion ceremony (N.B. Future Indicator). And when she “led him upstairs”, he wanted the light turned on. She wishes Conor (her husband) had wanted the light on. It would have made all the difference.
Then Mel arrives with her birthday present. But he has another purpose. Mel is gay, and married. And his husband has been doing some research on Martin, because Mel has little nieces and nephews, Máire’s grandchildren, and he’s terrified on their behalf. With justice.
And suddenly, Maire’s Jesus isn’t all-understanding. Not of a “bumboy” and a “faggot” if he’s trying to spoil her happiness the way Mel’s husband is trying to. Not like good Martin, she flings at Mel, who is “redeemed” by trust in Jesus and her love for him. A good man, and Mel is just jealous.
So in summary, Máire is simple, if not simple-minded.
And when Mel shouts at her to “come out from behind your Jesus” her reply is “I trust Jesus”. Except he’s the Jesus she has manufactured for herself, just as the nuns in Stanhope Street all those years before also manufactured a Jesus of retribution and anger, a Jesus who suddenly seems real to Máire when her manufactured edifice crumbles.
As a premise it’s extremely difficult to believe. Indeed, Máire is, quite frankly, a character in whom it’s pretty impossible to believe in 2021.
As a result, dramatically speaking, it’s only when Mel enters the picture halfway through the piece that it comes alive. Until then, unfortunately, I found myself ticking the predictabilities, unleavened by any originality, humour, or pathos.
In addition, the back-story section is hugely over-written, and is just too much of an ask for Marie Mullen to engage an audience in any kind of supposed reality.
But Brian Gleeson’s underplayed, naturalistically gauged Mel is perfectly tuned to the close-up of camera streaming.
As a result, the emotion becomes real: the loving impatience with his mother’s fantasy world, the carefully controlled irritation as he tries to explain the reality of his love for his husband, and finally, the raging terror on behalf of the loved small children open to defilement.
The Saviour is a co-production between Landmark and the Everyman for Cork Midsummer Festival.
It is directed by Louise Lowe with costumes by Joan O’Clery, lighting by Mary Tumelty and sound by Cameron Macaulay.
Filmed on the Everyman stage, it is available until tonight via YouTube.