Somebody please make a drama out of the crisis
This is undoubtedly simplistic but, in theatrical terms, it allows Annabelle Comyn’s elegant and eloquent production to move supply between memory and actuality, with Paul O’Mahony’s excellent set at once linking and marking off the two kinds of terrain. It also allows the luminous Catherine Walker to create a closely etched portrait of Brennan, spanning the contradictions of steeliness and fragility, ferocious self-belief and utter helplessness.
Yet, while the elegance and containment of The Talk of the Town create their own entrancement, they also obviate the possibility of drama.
Brennan’s life was pained, chaotic and ultimately tragic. But the conventions of the biopic impose themselves on the play; we get an upbeat ending rather than a personal or artistic resolution. And this serves as a reminder of the limitations of a theatre that is dependent on prose fiction.
SO WHERE DOEStheatre go if not backwards to classic fiction? The festival so far has two interesting possibilities, both searching for a way back to lived reality. One is contained in Brokentalkers’ narrow but impressively honest Have I No Mouth. It is more a therapy session than a play: literally so as Feidlim Cannon explores the painful death of his father in the company of his own mother Ann and their shared psychotherapist Erich Keller.
The feel of the piece is halfway between observational stand-up and healing ritual. It is sometimes cringeworthy in its psychological metaphors – blow up a balloon to let your unhappiness go – and sometimes profoundly engaging. There’s an unresolved tension between the demands of art and those of life. But at least Cannon is trying to explore those tensions courageously and without a safety net.
WHILE CANNON’S WORKis still uncertain about the difference between raw and naive, Louise Lowe’s extraordinary Monto Cycle about Dublin’s north inner city has reached a level where it is the rawest enactment of the dark side of Irish life and the most sophisticated theatre we have. It ignites aesthetics and politics, the historic and the contemporary, in a controlled explosion of cold rage. The third part of the four-part project, The Boys of Foley Street, returns, literally, to the territory of the first, the Lab, after last year’s searing excursion into the old Magdalene laundry on Sean McDermott Street.
That first part, World’s End Lane, was powerful in itself but largely confined to the somewhat sterile spaces of the building, in which the observer could feel essentially safe. The Boys takes us out into the adjoining streets, back lanes, yards and flats. It is Lowe’s inferno, a genuinely terrifying descent though the hell of heroin. Its mood is ugly, invasive, confrontational. Its intent is literal exposure – the viewer is exposed to the breakdown of a family and a community under the assault of the drug.
There is a complete, overwhelming realism, created by the astonishing commitment of the cast, but Lowe is also inventively adroit in the deployment both of abstract movement and of technology, from radio to film to mobile phones and cameras. There is some initial disappointment that The Boys of Foley Street seems to end rather abruptly, until you realise later that it will not end at all. Once it’s in your head, it will stay there.