Consumate piece of theatre

 

SOMEWHAT restructured from its original staging in the Garter Lane Theatre, Waterford, in 1995, Donal O'Kelly's imaginative staging of the voyage of the Catalpa whaling ship from New Bedford in Massachusetts, to rescue half a dozen Fenians from Freemantle in Australia and bring them back to New York, remains a remarkable tour-de-force of physical energy. It is much stronger on style than on substance as, under Bairbre Ni Chaoimh's supple direction, the author and actor recreates the images and (with perfectly suitable assistance from musician Trevor Knight) the sounds of the enterprise as they might have registered in a film script.

O'Kelly speaks and moves within the confines of a sparsely-furnished Georgian Dublin tenement room. An iron bedstead, pillows and drapes, a small table and a bent wood chair, a book, a short chain and long muslin curtains on the tall window are all the props from which he creates the negotiations in New Bedford, seagull circling overhead, the Atlantic passage and some whaling, encounters in Freemantle, the rescue from the prison settlement and the return to New York. He peoples the stage with all the characters from his wife Greta and baby daughter Pearl, through a collection of members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a young French maid in Australia and other bystanders there and back to the other side of the world.

The storms, the days, the nights, the whales, the whalers, the mother-in-law, the erratic Fenians, the ship's bow cutting through the waves: all these and more are conjured with precision, energy and imagination. Even if Paul Denby's lighting is sometimes a mite patchy, and even if the original conceit was to deliver a film script, it is still a consummate piece of theatre, well worth seeing.