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Theatre reviews: Home is where the heart is for two terrific online productions


Clelia Murphy in The Secrets of Primrose Square

Clelia Murphy in The Secrets of Primrose Square

Clelia Murphy in The Secrets of Primrose Square

The Secrets of Primrose Square

Online at draiocht.ie

Mespil in the Dark

Online at panpantheatre.com


It’s to be expected that Claudia Carroll’s The Secrets of Primrose Square, adapted for the stage from her novel of the same name, will end at least satisfactorily.

What is known pejoratively as “chick lit” – light, romantic fiction aimed mainly at a female audience – doesn’t often do unrelieved tragedy. But when it’s skilful and intelligent it has enough bumps along the way to mix plenty of realism into the pot – and Carroll’s piece is both.

Not having read the novel, I’m not sure if it is written in the form of serial, interlinking monologues from the three main characters, but that’s the stage form she has chosen.

The characters come through effectively and credibly, but a fully moved production with even the minor characters cast in roles would undoubtedly have been even more effective. However, that is to criticise the play for not being something other than it is.

The advantage of the form is that Mark Lambert’s direction gives full rein to three cracking performances. It’s probably unfair to say that Clelia Murphy is ahead by a country mile, as that is only because she has most of the meat – which she chews and spits out with admirable, agonised venom: a more than impressive piece of acting.

Susan’s husband is serving in Lebanon (by choice, in order to get a break from her descent into obsessive despair at the death of their teenage daughter in a drugs “incident”). She blames the tragedy on one of the girl’s school friends.

Stoned on an increasing self-medication of Xanax, she stalks the youngster, finally physically assaulting him in public, and ends up in enforced residential rehabilitation.

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Melissa, Susan’s surviving daughter (Megan McDonnell), is thus left to cope on her own, a tough task for a 15-year-old. The house is filthy and so is she – how many viewers wondered why the hell, at 15, she isn’t capable of washing her own school uniform and knickers? Maybe washing a kitchen floor? Or was it just me? But the poor kid feels justifiably sidelined, even abandoned.

In comes warm-hearted widowed neighbour Jayne (tailor-made for Marion O’Dwyer), whose awful son and daughter-in-law are trying to bully her into selling her house. Instead she finds an online boyfriend, a pony-tailed America-based vegan who runs a wellness centre, and is smitten enough to turn up on Jayne’s doorstep.

He’s also into tantric sex, which is a new one on Jayne. But she has no problems with any of it, thanks to an open mind and the aforementioned warm heart.

Yes, everything works out pretty well for everyone, including a rehabilitated Susan, with nobody forgetting the memory of dead Ella: there’s a memorial to her in the square where they all live.

It’s a Pat Moylan production and isn’t half as trite as it sounds, thanks to the performances. It was online but a full live stage tour is planned for a later date (this had been the original pre-Covid plan).

Pan Pan’s four 15-minute films, generically entitled Mespil in the Dark, were made almost as an experiment for the Brightening Air Festival.

While undoubtedly more of a film project, they are so accomplished that visually and stylistically they fit smoothly into the theatre genre, and it’s more than welcome to see the company has made the four episodes available on demand online until August 29.

Each film can be viewed individually, but the underlying theme of isolation in community, as well as the quirkiness of approach, make it more than worthwhile to watch them as a unit.

The four playlets have been written by Eugene O’Brien and feature a group of eight actors, all of whom live in the Mespil Estate complex in Dublin 4.

The plays are linked by brief interactions between some of the characters: from a drunken, disillusioned architect through to an equally, but differently, disillusioned actor facing alienation in his relationship with his child’s mother; a well-meaning but intrusively eccentric woman; a desperately lonely immigrant student; and an equally lonely but valiantly coping actor celebrating his birthday alone.

Subtlety is the overarching element in both the writing and Gavin Quinn’s direction (filmed by Ros Kavanagh) with design by Aedín Cosgrove.

Built as one of the first private rental projects in the 1950s, Mespil remains a ”desirable” address in today’s fraught housing world, but the insights in these pieces howl of the isolation of the spirit. Nobody’s life is perfect.

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