Origintheatre.org playing on January 26
Origin 1st Irish Theatre Festival, the New York annual event, has gone online this year because of Covid-19. They commissioned these four new short plays from Irish or Irish-American writers dealing with the issue of domestic violence during the pandemic. Making drama from crises is often a fruitful exercise, but issue-based plays have their own special pitfalls. The pieces vary in length from eight to 19 minutes.
Geraldine Aron’s Teresa’s Green features Alan Kelly as a camp menswear manager who has dedicated his professional life to John Lewis. His apartment balcony gives him a bird’s-eye view of the life of the couple downstairs. There, Craig acts out his inadequacies by bullying pregnant Celine. Kelly’s performance is playful and persuasive and a bubbling black humour carries the story to a dark, satisfactory conclusion.
In Honor Molloy’s All the Last Weekend, Angel Desai plays a female victim of domestic violence. This, the shortest of the plays, has an interesting psychological perspective shift and hits the nail on the head, thematically, with additional imagery at the end paying tribute to the many female victims. Desai’s performance is complex and forceful. But the play feels tied to its mission too closely and never fully transforms into drama.
Derek Murphy’s The Isolation of Mr Moore is the oddest as well as the best. Performed by David Spain, a man living alone in an apartment during the lockdown has bought in loads of beans and toilet roll to tide him over. The female half of the neighbouring couple knocks on his door demanding supplies, spitting on his door handle and threatening worse.
Subtly, Moore starts to suspect that she is in turn being bullied by her partner, the scary Milo. Moore begins to surrender, bit by bit, and starts to leave them out supplies. Spain convinces utterly as this reticent, put-upon male.
Finally, Jade Jordan gives a sweet performance in Ursula Rani Sarma’s Scarlett as a woman who is the victim of coercive control. There is too little detail about the woman’s life, so it feels unconvincing. Ultimately this piece feels too much like a textbook primer on coercive control rather than a dramatic interpretation.
The plays have post-credit information cards containing facts, including data from oireachtas.ie indicating that gardaí reported a 25pc increase in domestic violence calls in pandemic lockdown April/May 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. This theatre project has a strong and legitimate raison d’être. But being right or righteous only carries you so far and Stay Home Stay Safe remains more admirable in its intentions than successful in its artistry.
Origintheatre.org playing on January 25
This is a compilation of readings of five 20-minute plays by Northern Irish female writers presented by Belfast’s Lyric Theatre. The plays are all set in 2050 and appear to offer a perspective on the future, but they are surprising in their lack of forward-thinking and the writers seem stubbornly tied to the present or rooted in the past.
The most affecting is the final one, Maybe If We’d Stayed Angry, written by Gina Donnelly. It portrays a woman’s grief two years after her wife is killed in a bomb that blew up the Albert Clock in 2048. In the fourth play, The Garden of Remembrance, writer Emily Dedakis invents a feminist future where all the phallic architecture in the world, including the Albert Clock, has been captured and shipped to a park in Colorado — a wonderfully funny and original idea. The other three writers are Fionnuala Kennedy, Alice Malseed and Sarah Gordon.
The sci-fi potential of technological advances doesn’t appear to be of much interest to the writers. Nor is the idea that Northern Irish society might be transformed in any major way. No writer sought to imagine a Belfast engulfed in a United Ireland, or an Ireland reabsorbed into the UK. On the evidence of this collection, the emerging writers of Northern Ireland, a place with so much past, may have trouble conjuring a future.