Entertainment Theatre & Arts

Wednesday 12 December 2018

We Can't Have Monkeys in the House: New Irish play explores a lethal maternal misogyny

  • We Can't Have Monkeys in the House, The New Theatre, Dublin Until Nov 24

Left to right: Meg Healy, Aisling O’Mara, Danielle Galligan and Camille Lucy Ross. Photo Jeda de Brí
Left to right: Meg Healy, Aisling O’Mara, Danielle Galligan and Camille Lucy Ross. Photo Jeda de Brí

Katy Hayes

Estranged daughter John returns to her Dublin home, following a 15-year absence working in Belfast. Her three sisters are all still living at home. The family now faces the dilemma of whether or not to turn off the machines that are keeping their elderly, dementia-suffering mother alive. Ciara Elizabeth Smyth's new play is a comedy about family, featuring outlandish conflicts and bitter sibling rivalries, but it has a dark heart that beats insistently behind the laughs.

Though unconventional in structure, the show has a strong emotional through-line and the unwrapping of John's backstory, her reason for leaving, gains a slow, tragic power. The influence of the absurdist playwrights is clear. Aspects of the play will remind audiences of Enda Walsh's The Walworth Farce, as the daughters play out true-crime episodes as a way of keeping themselves entertained.

Design by Naomi Faughnan is an intriguing sitting room, furnished with chairs made from spongy tubular sausage shapes, like stuffed nylon tights. Some of the shapes look like breasts with nipples, sort of. One of the mother's ways of oppressing her daughters was to make them cover their breasts with big jumpers, even in summer.

The sisters who are trapped at home make a colourful trio: Cinnamon (Danielle Galligan), an internet influencer, is a daft princess; Neil (Meg Healy) is an aspiring dancer; and Leslie (Camille Lucy Ross) has borne the burden of the care for mammy. All three actors play in a high comedic style. Aisling O'Mara, as black sheep John, uses a more realistic tone, thus enabling her to carry the emotional heft, when it is required. All four performances are terrific, with Galligan as the internet princess a standout.

Director Olivia Songer keeps the action moving at a fast pace; portions of the show become stylised and choreographed, others verge towards realism. A puppet of the mother is created and seated in the big chair, in order to jog their memories. This is a highly effective way of recreating the monstrous Mammy.

At 60 minutes, this is a very enjoyable show with plenty of laughs. But it is freighted all the same with a good deal of serious material.

The masculine names are a testament to mammy having wanted boys rather than girls; the peculiar sociopathy of the daughters is clearly caused by a lethal maternal misogyny. We don't get much on the Irish stage about the dark side of the mother/daughter dynamic. This is a very welcome and original interrogation of this intriguing subject.

Painted into a difficult corner

Brothers of the Brush, Viking, Clontarf Until tonight (tours Waterford, Nov 21, Cornelscourt, Nov 22, 23)

Jimmy Murphy's excellent debut play from 1993 stands the test of time; it remains one of the few Irish contemporary plays to engage with the lot of the working man or woman and issues surrounding trade unionism and the organisation of labour.

Three house painters are employed on a cut-price job, working against the clock in filthy conditions so they can move on to a bigger job in a factory, promising overtime for all and the lucrative role of foreman for one.

Heno (Stephen Jones) is a live wire and agitates for them all to strike. Lar (Stephen Cromwell) is a chastened boss-pleaser, having almost lost his house when he lost his last job. Jack (Gerard Byrne) is 60, and clocking up the years until he can get the pension.

The business owner Martin, a cocky Luke Griffin, pitches one man against another in his ruthless pursuit of the lowest price.

There is the constant threat of replacement by FÁS workers (low-paid interns, the 1990s version of JobBridge).

All four performances are excellent and direction by Tracy Ryan is perfectly timed, finding plenty of laughs amongst the heated dramatic exchanges. This is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of first-rate, meaty drama.

Indo Review

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