Tuesday 21 November 2017

Theatre: A promising plot that's in sore need of further development

Thisispopbaby seem undecided about what they intend in their new work

Barbara Brennan and Conall Keating in 'Town is Dead' at the Abbey's Peacock stage. Photo: Ros Kavanagh.
Barbara Brennan and Conall Keating in 'Town is Dead' at the Abbey's Peacock stage. Photo: Ros Kavanagh.

Emer O'Kelly

Is IT a play? Is it an opera? Is it a musical? The problem with Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell's piece (together known as Thisispopbaby) Town Is Dead is that even they don't seem to know. The result is something that flails uneasily through its 90-minute length, and leaves the audience emotionally detached from its subject, and trying to puzzle out the sense of the form.

A programme note says the play can be performed with or without the score. At its premiere at the Peacock, it is performed with the score, and with the cast singing some of their lines (randomly, it seems) in the fashion of operatic recitative.

The story line is strong: an elderly woman leaving her inner-city flat which is being sold for development, to take up residence in the box room at her uppity sister's suburban semi. She is belligerently attached to her young neighbour upstairs, but keeps the past at bay, and confides nothing. Enter a strange woman from London, and the past starts to impinge. The young woman is the daughter of the drunken husband Ellen left many years ago, and the walls of emotional reality start to close in.

Unfortunately the characters lack the strength of their setting, and their emerging "back stories" never seem to flesh them out. Add in the wraith of Ellen's long-dead son for whom she grieves with equal amounts of guilt and resentment…except that, apparently deliberately, we don't know he's a wraith…..and the only summation for Town Is Dead is that it's both sketchy and under-developed.

It might be better performed minus the score, but then again, that might further highlight the superficialities and inconsistencies. In itself, Scannell's score is attractive, performed by Danny Forde, Christiane O'Mahony and Conor Sheil, and the cast are well up to the demands of singing it. Barbara Brennan is Ellen, Kate Gilmore is the stroppy Katarina, Fia Houston-Hamilton the interloper Rachel, and Conall Keating the ghostly Will.

McMahon's direction of his work is uneasy, as though he is aware of its failures, but can't work out how to overcome them.

The characters lack the strength of their setting, and their emerging "back stories" never seem to flesh them out.

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