Thursday 22 February 2018

Theatre: Sometimes the words are just not enough

  • The Clancy Kid & Bait, New Theatre, Dublin
Colin Barrett
Colin Barrett

Emer O'Kelly

Page doesn't transfer to stage in this Colin Barrett adaptation.

It's several years since Colin Barrett's debut collection of short stories hit both the headlines and awards circuit. Young Skins set critical eyes blinking at home and abroad. The stories were centred on one of novella length, Calm With Horses, which dealt with drug-dealing in small-town Ireland. That's like saying (and I'm trying not to exaggerate) that War and Peace deals with Napoleon and Russia.

Reality:Check Productions have chosen two others from the collection to put on stage. They are The Clancy Kid and Bait.

Barrett's language, a combination of lyricism and graphic brutality, soars across the stage. But it's the only soaring thing; the very intensity and relentlessly crushing imagery and complexity, so compelling in print, crowds the brain into irritation when spoken on stage. One longs to pause and savour it before rushing to the next (usually physically savage) image. But there's no time.

The reason? A short story is a short story; a play is a play. And frequently, never the twain meet, which is what happens here.

The actors, Stephen O'Leary and Killian Coyle respectively, tell us the texts. In The Clancy Kid, the narrator is a randy young man only mildly interested in his bull-like pal's obsession with the disappearance of a local child. He himself concentrates on his lust for a woman who "belongs" to someone else, while also deserving the description of the local bicycle.

In Bait, a not-all-there narrator is enticed into local woodlands by two predatory and aggressive young women with spookily inevitable results. (Women don't appear to advantage in these stories.)

The descriptions do not exactly do justice to Barrett's sense of place, time, and something that can best be described as a kind of crass sexual mysticism, which is at the core of the pieces. But that's because there's no attempt to render them into a stage medium. That may be due to a justified respect for the original, but it does no favours to an audience, many of whom, possibly most of whom, will be unfamiliar with the stories in their original format, and may reflect that the ticket money would have been better spent on the text.

Ciara Smyth directs.

Sunday Independent

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