A man in white underpants with a noose around his neck is tethered to a block of cement in the middle of an almost empty stage
e is circling in distress and bleating like an anguished goat. Three men in black suits arrive wearing wide-brimmed hats. They wash and dress the man. And then he starts to speak. He is our narrator, the Holy Man.
He tells us the story of Jimmy O’Reilly, a 36 year-old-man who lives alone with his wheelchair-bound mother Nancy since the death of his father. His mother wants him to marry, but Jimmy is suffering from extreme depression. It is his birthday and his mother tries to cheer him up with a party, inviting all the local single ladies. But all Jimmy is interested in is the shotgun, a birthday present from his mother. He escapes and goes to the nearby swan lake intending never to return.
But Jimmy suddenly feels alive with the swans and he falls in love so deeply and truly that it consumes him. The subject of his love is Finola, a girl made into swan by the sinister Holy Man when he too fell in love with her and realised it was a love that could never be. These two broken people, Jimmy and Finola, come together and are made whole.
This is a violent retelling of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, both emotionally and physically. Our hearts are with Jimmy and Finola and they shatter with their conclusion, only to rise again impossibly exuberantly in the joyous afterlife.
Michael Keegan-Dolan has radically reinvented classics before and here too he uses the skeleton of the original story and builds innovatively upon it. He has bravely done away with the familiar score and replaced it with original compositions by the trio Slow Moving Clouds. Their often heart-wrenching songs marry Irish and Scandinavian sensibilities, we go from the liveliness of a ceili to the bleak solitude of a Bergman film.
Keegan-Dolan requires much of his versatile cast too, they must not only dance, they must act and clown and sing. And they all rise to the challenge. Mikel Murfi as the Holy Man has possibly never been better, he is as charming as he is revolting.
This Swan Lake is utterly rooted in Ireland, it is utterly original, it is utterly brilliant.