The Battle of Kildare Place Kildare Place, Dublin
I Poured the Tea
Boys’ School Smock Alley, Dublin
Two sisters and a city disintegrating around them. Or is it merely being reconfigured?
That’s the argument teased out in The Battle of Kildare Place by Emma Gilleece and Michael James Ford, and the play opens this year’s Walkabout programme by Colm Maher of Bewley’s Café Theatre.
It’s staged in Kildare Place, the square on Kildare Street in Dublin which once housed the Church of Ireland Teaching Training College, since replaced by the modernist building designed by the late Sam Stephenson which houses the Department of Agriculture.
Enter sisters Meadhbh and Gráinne, whose late father was a battling dissident preservationist. And the women have been more or less estranged for several years, with Meadhbh having insulted Gráinne’s architect husband for his views and modernist work.
She lives in Dublin and carries on her father’s battles while running a not-too-successful florist business. She has also recently split from her boyfriend. Gráinne has settled in London and has an extremely chic lifestyle with husband Alastair and two teenage children.
Now permission has been given for a plaque to commemorate their father’s work, and they’ve met to view the site.
The play is a polemic about preservation versus progress – but the unspoken battle is between the sisters and their different recollections of their shared childhood.
The late Sam Stephenson once said that perhaps posterity mightn’t want the city to be preserved: he liked stirring things up.
And his ghost is frequently invoked in this piece – with the protagonists still stirring away about the once gracious centre of our capital city being made a weapon in, and victim of, the battle between blatant profiteering on one side, and respect for heritage and sustainability on the other.
And without taking sides, The Battle of Kildare Place is as informative as it is entertaining, beautifully played by that multi-talented duo of Darina Gallagher (Meadhbh) and Sinead Murphy (Gráinne), and directed by co-author Michael James Ford.
The two actors are costumed by Bairbre Ní Chaoimh.
Satire needs a light touch. And Theatre of the Absurd requires absolute clarity of delivery. Delivering them together is a difficult theatrical job.
And in Nick Makin’s I Poured the Tea, we ‘join’ Boxer and Seamus, apparently on a freebie holiday on a tropical island. But we’re given no idea how they are tuned into past events which triggered the gift of the hollier in the first place.
That’s absurd – but not in the way Ionesco would have understood.
On top of that, director Casey Hallahan hasn’t made allowance for the fairly deplorable sight lines in the Boys’ School at Smock Alley, so most of the audience (including me) had no way of seeing what they’re doing, as only their heads are visible.
Ultimately, it emerges that they’re on a beach, with no apparent access to a hotel or any other human being.
Elsewhere, a pair of scurrilous bankers – chairman and MD of an Irish bank about to go under. Except that its skulduggery is guaranteed by the Irish government, despite it having been denied funding from its big rivals (AIB and Bank of Ireland, no mention of the ECB bailout).
The two gobshites have come up smiling from the disaster by being ill-educated gurriers – which makes them cleverer than other bankers. And every Irish citizen ends up with a personal debt ad infinitum of €16,150.
The absurdist bit is that they manage to make two waiters (who poured the tea at all the meetings) disappear, blame them, suborn a golf-playing high court judge, and walk away smiling.
And it all ends – spoiler alert – with the two tropically-trapped working-class northside Dubliners who are as thick as a pair of short planks (contrary to the bankers), donning lifejackets while the boat they (unconvincingly) get into goes bang.
The play, a Fair Dinkum! production, has a slightly dusty air of having been written a long time ago, with society and scandals having moved on from the banking crisis that debased and almost destroyed the country. Nor does it really work as its self-declared tribute to Dublin’s northside.
Jason Gilroy and Matthew O’Donnell play the two Dubs, Eoin O’Sullivan and Rory Knox are the bankers, and Gerry Cannon the judge. Design is by Rory Knox and lighting by Éinne Ó Connachtáin.