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Theatre: Lesbian dating drama even charms the ducks from the pond

Next Please Bewley’s Café Theatre at St Stephen’s Green until June 26

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Sarah Morris and Aisling O'Mara in Next Please, showing at Bewley’s Café Theatre at St Stephen’s Green. Photo: Kyle Cheldon Barnett

Sarah Morris and Aisling O'Mara in Next Please, showing at Bewley’s Café Theatre at St Stephen’s Green. Photo: Kyle Cheldon Barnett

Sarah Morris and Aisling O'Mara in Next Please, showing at Bewley’s Café Theatre at St Stephen’s Green. Photo: Kyle Cheldon Barnett

Traditionally, narratives about gay women have often lurched into melodrama or psychodrama; rarely do we encounter normal, well-adjusted confident lesbians, with a wealth of ordinary life skills. Jo, who works in Tesco, is just that. Her sexuality is simply a part of her life. Coming out to her religious grandmother, the woman who reared her, turned out to be no big deal. Aisling O’Mara’s new play opens with Jo nervously awaiting the arrival of Mel for a first date. The audience is assembled in the Summer House pavilion in St Stephen’s Green for this Bewley’s Café Theatre one-hour show. Jo gives us a frank and chatty exposition of her life as a checkout operator and her difficult family background with a rarely seen father and an absent mother. For all the tumult, Jo is confident and secure in her sense of self. In a bit of dramaturgical contrivance, Jo goes off to fetch coffees, leaving the stage clear for Mel to arrive. Mel is more conflicted and has difficulty thinking straight. Engaged to a man, her fiancé ditched her three weeks before their planned wedding, sensing something was not quite right. Since then, she has been foraging hopelessly on dating apps, and experimenting with lesbian porn. One day Mel has a meltdown in Tesco after she hears her ex has just had a baby with his new girlfriend. On foot of this, Jo asks her out. Sarah Morris as Jo has a glinting quickness in her flirtatious and commanding persona. O’Mara herself plays Mel with an affecting intensity underpinning her confusions. The play, written specifically for a Covid-compliant performance, is very up-to-the-minute. Mel is a nurse, Jo a checkout operator: both are key workers. They were supposed to meet in the bandstand, but it was fenced off because the young people had invaded it recently during their “outdoor summer”. Both performances are winning and sitting in on a date is a lot of fun. Iseult Golden directs with a strong emphasis on the bright side. The airy Summer House setting is perfect. A few extroverted ducks get in on the act, and the odd pigeon flies past. This cheery date drama will leave a big smile on your face.

Endurance swimmer Mercedes Gleitze brought vividly to life

The Art of Swimming Cork Midsummer Festival run concluded

The annual Cork Midsummer arts festival kicked off last week with a combined digital and physical programme.
Among its riches was a welcome opportunity to see writer/performer Lynda Radley’s luminous theatrical portrait of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel — a feat she achieved in 1927 at the age of 26.
Cork native Radley’s interest in Gleitze was piqued by a photo of the endurance swimmer from a 1930 event in the Eglinton Street Baths which she found in Cork City Library. Radley first performed this show in 2007, a welcome dive into the rare theatrical subject of women and sport.
This new 25-minute filmed version is directed sensitively by Tom Creed with perfect mood-enhancing sound and music by Michael John McCarthy. Small props and limited movement support the story but don’t dominate.
Gleitze’s big achievements in sport were later swamped by her life as a wife, a mother, and a philanthropist. Radley sometimes inhabits the persona of Gleitze and sometimes theatrically interrogates the sportswoman. We hear about her stamina, her sprinting strength. Parallels with the writing process glimmer under the surface. The performance is sincere, unadorned, vivid and intelligent, as is the script. Sometimes in theatre, subtlety is king.

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