Tea Chests and Dreams
Axis, DublinSo many stories, from Greek epics to folk ballads and fairytales, are based on the search for home, that it makes Dermot Bolger’s gentle new play for Axis seem to begin where most quests end: with its discovery. But Bolger’s latest depiction of a community – in this case, as viewed by three unrelated generations of women in Tallaght – makes the idea of home a brittle and hard-won notion, something to be built and fortified daily, now extending far beyond defined boundaries.
For a start, Tea Chest and Dreams is even established outside the territory of his own writing: following a public competition, a different woman begins proceedings each night with a reading of her own experience of moving home, with the opening night contribution, a piece warm with wry and supple detail by Helena Nolen, informing a nostalgic, bittersweet, generally hopeful mood.
Bolger’s piece, conceived as a series of monologues and duologues performed by Kelly Hickey and Donna Anita Nikolaisen, is also an exercise in looking back, beginning with a child in Perth remarking on her Irish grandmother’s Facebook posts, then excavating the personal histories of a neighbourhood with far-reaching links.
There’s an obvious risk of sentimentality, more so when implicitly linking the idea of femininity to domesticity (with no exceptions, the five women we meet are defined as maternal homemakers), and though Bolger doesn’t give these characters much purchase in a broader social world, he asks them to provide a personal lens for shifting social contexts.
The first character, whose story begins forty years ago, weaves a tale of emigration and return, travelling from London on the cusp of the 1980s to a Dublin neighbourhood “not yet on any map”.
Another, a disco diva at the shameful old age of 27 (“The sort of age you expect Twink to be,” she laments) is about to further the population boom that coincided with the Pope’s visit, while others watch through windows as boom-era leads to urban degeneration, then collapsing property markets and finally new communities.
In a delicate exchange between the bright mannered Hickey and Nikolaisen, radiant with sincerity, the elderly character tells a new arrival about the psychology of accruing heirlooms, by which they “try and stop time by hording things”.
Something similar happens with the play, which refuses to let any character detail, era-signalling device (the Pope, Abba, sexual liberation in the internet era) or wry gag go, which often makes Bolger conspicuous in every voice.
Against those elaborations, director Mark O’Brien’s production is stridently unadorned (Marie Tierney’s set, designed in collaboration with Robert Ballagh, is little more than a backdrop of packing boxes), and such minimalism discreetly makes the same point: a home is where you choose to make it.
Until Apr 14 at Axis, then Civic Theatre Tallaght Apr 20-21