Saturday 23 February 2019

Theatre Review: 'Autumn Royal is a brilliant play, full of wit and sentiment'

Autumn Royal, Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Kevin Barry's Autmumn Royal (Marcin Lewandowski /
Kevin Barry's Autmumn Royal (Marcin Lewandowski /

Katy Hayes

This is a brilliant play, full of wit and sentiment. Kevin Barry has long since established his reputation as a fiction writer, and his stage debut is every bit as good.

The play is wonderfully served by Siobhán McSweeney and Shane Casey as the brother and sister whose lives are on precarious hold.

Director Caitriona McLaughlin carves a path through the eighty-five minutes, with an astute use of Beckettian repetitive action and perfect emotional pitch. The set by Deirdre Dwyer is one of the best I’ve ever seen; its stacked washing machines a surreal monument to domestic horror and entrapment. It is wonderfully incorporated in the action and soundscape. Minding their father requires three machine washes each day.

The core idea is a familiar one that has been tackled by many writers: a brother and sister cope with the demands of an infirm father who requires round-the-clock care. They struggle with the idea of a nursing home, and sometimes other, darker solutions come to mind. May regrets a lost past. Tim yearns for an unobtainable future. They live in fear of the judgment of neighbours; they are both in mourning for their selves.

The writing is strongly accented in a comic Cork idiom, but the humour never runs away with the story. The tragedy of their situation is laid bare: the wasted lives, the stunted development, the sadness at the core of this household where the mother ran off and left them.

This is first-rate work; it’s a pleasure to witness sparkly new theatre writing that is as well served as this. Don’t miss it.

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