The Spinning Heart review: an ensemble performance of an atomised community

In director Paul Brennan’s staging of Donal Ryan’s novel, each performer is given an uncontested moment to shine

The Spinning Heart , at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

The Spinning Heart , at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

 

The Spinning Heart ★★★
Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

“It’s difficult living in a universe with a population of one,” confides one of the more confused characters (a try-hard solipsist), in Donal Ryan’s debut novel, The Spinning Heart, from 2012. The technique of Ryan’s book, though, with its population of 21 characters, is to let everyone become the centre of the universe. Each is allowed a confessional story, told in the first person and in quick succession, which piece together to form the striving narrative of a recession-era Irish town. For the divided families, betrayed workers and squinting neighbours, those circumstances match the manner of telling: everything is turned inside out.

In Articulate Anatomy’s staging, however, everything is pretty much left alone. Delivered as a series of monologues, this is less an adaptation of the novel than a supple edit. In a scrupulous display of even distribution, 10 performers share 20 roles (just one has been sacrificed), inhabiting a stage of white chairs and picket fences, elegantly lit by Eoin Lennon, that says as much about the economy of the production as the nation.

If director Paul Brennan’s staging often plays like a suite of audition pieces - bright, eager and declamatory - there’s good reason: the production started as an acting school showcase. As such, it offers its performers uncontested moments to shine; when one character speaks here, for instance, others watch (occasionally in tableaux of neighbourly suspicion) or stand in, silently, like living props. This creates a curious and perhaps fitting contradiction: an ensemble performance of an atomised community. Together but apart, they make the stage seem more supportive than collaborative. Instead of the spry tapestry of Under Milk Wood, say, it results in something uniformly quilted, like A Chorus Line.

On page, the story’s rhythms are easier to regulate - whatever reviews say, one of the appeals of any novel is that it is putdownable - but onstage the pace becomes unvaried and eventually wearying. Not every character here is essential. The show becomes unbalanced in other ways, though, when performers resort to caricature either to distinguish between their roles or exhibit their range.

As the decent, battered foreman Bobby Mahon (a contemporary ringer for Synge’s would-be father-killer Christy), Killian Coyle is a solid and sympathetic anchor. But for the schizoid Trevor, who conspires to kidnap a child, he is a quiver of blinks and tics, given the black hat and gloves of a cartoon burglar. That figure was already OTT, you can argue, but it compromises the sensitivity to mental anguish displayed elsewhere in this depressed community. That’s emblematic of an overstretched production that understands, with necessary empathy, why hearts have been set spinning in Ryan’s book, but on stage settles for so many turns.

- Until Jan 28

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.