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Virtual theatre review: The noise of the ‘City’ offers sounds of hope


‘City’ is written and performed by Cork man John McCarthy at the city's Everyman theatre

‘City’ is written and performed by Cork man John McCarthy at the city's Everyman theatre

New John McCarthy

New John McCarthy


‘City’ is written and performed by Cork man John McCarthy at the city's Everyman theatre

CITY Everyman online 

The Cork-based actor/writer John McCarthy has taken his native city as the central point of the world – except it could be any city – as he invites his audience to hear it and hear ourselves. Sound, he believes, especially the sound of a city, is the sound of humanity. “Hear a city, and you hear yourself.” We are part of a long, slow listen over the decades. We have evolved, as he has, through that long, slow listen.

In his one-man piece CITY, sound is the unseen imprint that, when utilised in fellowship, translates however obliquely into a single phrase: “I’ll try and look after you”… whatever the mess and confusion surrounding our circumstances.

That’s McCarthy’s optimistic conclusion and, to arrive at it, he tells five stories. All different, all with echoes that he believes add to the soundscape that we hear daily and make us what we are.

It’s an esoteric theory, at times fairly oblique and occasionally pretentious, but it makes an opportunity for the telling of fascinating stories. Their “sound outcome” in ascending order of optimism to bring us to today when the sounds of our lives can be recorded for posterity, our tiny input into the future of the world, part of its massive template: “So many lives about you that aren’t yours.” 

It begins with a man known as the Fearless Frogman. In 1874 he dived off a Cunard steamship off Cape Clear. His aim was to prove the efficacy of his inflatable rubber suit as a life-preserving device. And the exploit was picked up and conveyed across the world by the magic of telegraphy, imprinting the sound on the world’s ears. Because Paul Boyton, the Fearless Frogman, had survived. Story number one.

Two years earlier, a friend of his called Robert Odlum died in his arms after Odlum had leapt from Brooklyn Bridge, not in a suicide attempt but in the hope of proving that it could be done safely. As Odlum haemorrhaged while waiting for the ambulance, he asked Boyton if it was blood. His friend assured him it was brandy. Odlum’s sound died with him.

Forward to 1880 and the world could at last “see” sound. In Lithuania a man experimented with his “phono autograph”, its rolls of paper making sound visible for the first time. The man died in the horror of a pogrom but his daughter Ellen emigrated to the US, bringing with her the rolls of her father’s visible sound.

”I play sounds back with my voice,” McCarthy breaks off to point out. So, in 2021, sounds make us at one with the past.

And he goes on to prove it with a violently, sweepingly sonorous telling of the Irish legend of Ferdia and Cuchulainn battling to the death at the ford, Ferdia sent there by Queen Maeve as a blood sacrifice to her rival.

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“You see more when your time is short,” Ferdia reflects as he advances to the combat. Then later, as they care for each other’s wounds at the end of each terrible day, the songs they sing to each other in their hallucinatory pain echo in the sound of 10 million bees. Ferdia has been instructed, he admits to his foe, that he must wedge his axe in Cuchulainn’s neck until his head falls off. One can’t help asking oneself if the horror sounds of that story are any kind of addition to today’s CITY of sounds, though.

But McCarthy concludes, with a story of obvious affirmation of life. Twenty-six small bottles are defrosting in a 21st century sink. Labelled and dated, they contain a woman’s breast milk, expressed over the fear-filled, frantic days when her tiny baby lay in intensive care, unable to feed. And it began, perhaps, in the sound of a fan circling in a delivery room.

And now the baby is home, feeding voraciously, the future sound that of developing life.

Overall CITY is a remarkable piece, inspired by the pandemic, stoic and lyrical, and well delivered by its author, directed by Niall Cleary.

It was filmed on the stage of the Everyman Theatre, lit by Hanan Sheedy, with sound by Fiona Sheil and set by Deirdre Dwyer.

City is available to view next Sunday, April 25; booking through everymancork.com/events/city with tickets from €17.50

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