Sunday 25 August 2019

Midsummer at Project Arts Centre: Rainy lost weekend in Edinburgh takes no risks


Project Arts Centre, Dublin  Until June 8

Lost souls: Purcell and Crowe in Midsummer. Photo by Keith Dixon
Lost souls: Purcell and Crowe in Midsummer. Photo by Keith Dixon

Katy Hayes

This two-hander with songs by Scottish writer David Greig was first produced in 2008. The play follows Bob and Helena, a pair of lost souls who meet each in a bar on a Friday night in Edinburgh and go on a crazy jaunt for the weekend, getting drunk, having sex and spending some of Bob's ill-gotten gains.

She is a well-to-do lawyer; he is a failed poet who handles stolen goods and reads Dostoyevsky to cheer himself up. The play is a study of the mid-thirties, a time when people worry they are running out of the necessary rope to turn their lives around. It captured the financial-crash Zeitgeist of 2008: the idea of a wild and reckless weekend had plenty of appeal for a generation who feared their future had been stolen. Why be responsible when the world has been wrecked by financial gamblers?

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Roseanna Purcell is polished and convincing as Helena; her singing is outstanding. Aidan Crowe carries the songs well, but his line delivery loses focus occasionally. Both performers play several instruments with style.

A tricksy and inventive set design by Alyson Cummins makes an excellent contribution to the production. The set is a blue structure made up of cuboid boxes, but each shape opens up and a mini-set emerges, including a bathroom cupboard, a fridge, a piano keyboard and a hotel bed. Sesame Street's Elmo pops out from a nook. A small video screen brings Edinburgh's incessant rain into the picture. Eoin Winning's lighting design sculpts the set expertly but also contributes a lot of atmosphere as the show hops from location to location around the city.

Grieg's writing is sharp and the music by Gordon McIntyre of Scottish band Ballboy fame is good, lo-fi balladeering. The lyrics are smart; a particularly funny song gives raucous voice to a hangover.

It is an amiable enough evening, but finally it doesn't build well. The dilemmas faced by Bob and Helena are not exactly earth-shattering. The characters are far too ordinary and it's not funny enough to be a proper romcom. A death occurs late in the action, which feels like a manufactured device to dig the characters out of a plot hole, rather than a believable event.

Director Eoghan Carrick has a good feel for pace and the show gallops along, but there is too much evident control; the play calls out for something wilder in its handling, a more transgressive approach. Something of the reckless energy of the lovers is missing. The characters take plenty of risks but the production doesn't.


Moving play about an abortion journey

Cotton Fingers

Samuel Beckett Theatre, Dublin At Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray Tonight

Katy Hayes

The National Theatre of Wales makes its first visit to Ireland with this hot-button 75-minute play about a girl from Belfast who travels to Wales to have an abortion. Though abortion is legal in the UK, it is prohibited in Northern Ireland.

Amy Molloy plays Aoife, a 19-year-old who becomes pregnant after a moment of Christmas carelessness with her boyfriend. The play follows her thought processes, and in particular her horror at her sister's depressed existence on "the estate" as a single mum. Aoife's ambition to become a manager at her local Omniplex is touching in its modesty.

Molloy's performance is profoundly moving, as she details the emotional trauma of her journey. Abortion is not a hurdle to be crossed, she says, but an experience that must be gone through. Some of the detail is harrowing.

Director Julia Thomas surrounds the solo performer with a terrific sound design by Tasha Taylor Johnson and a busy lighting plot by Joe Fletcher, giving the show a strong sense of style.

Welsh writer Rachel Trezise's text is emotionally and politically astute, tackling the complex relationship between all the jurisdictions of these islands in terms of control over women's bodies. The Troubles in Northern Ireland may have abated, but women's troubles endure.


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