Autumn Royal review: Kevin Barry shows there is no escape from home

Two siblings trapped by an aged parent dream a future far away in this effective, claustrophobic production


Everyman, Cork

A Babel tower of washing machines confronts the audience at Autumn Royal, Kevin Barry's deliberately confined new play. The set designed by Deirdre Dwyer smells strongly of hygienic kitchen products, and offers references not only to manic domesticity but also to a displacement of custom, hope and hatred.

Barry’s treatment of the well-worn theme of siblings trapped by the aged parent (“him upstairs in the bed”) couldn’t be called a new slant on the topic. Rather, it’s a new swipe, a scathing searchlight on wishful thinking, enlivened by the writer’s characteristic ebullience of language, phrasing and hilariously unexpected adjectival conjunctions.


Assisted by lighting from John Crudden and sound from Carl Kennedy, director Catriona McLaughlin controls the cascades of effects and dialogue with a precision that allows the combination of comedy, pathos and savagery its intended impact. It supports the narrative delivered by May (Siobhán McSweeney), who remembers everything, even the black eyes of Padre Pio supervising a childhood outing, and by Timmy (Shane Casey), whose fantasy of an enchanted Australian future is lived in such detail that the name of his first child is already selected. Their shared captivity is emphasised by this back-stage production where the front seats are endangered by scattered tea-bags and discarded banana skins.

Closeness is all in this production as McSweeney's fluid voice disguises the venom of her disparagement while heightening her wistful reminiscences. Shane Casey as her brother has a more energetic but equally poignant wish-list; the pair are condemned to an actuality splintered by vicious accusations that are almost instantly rescinded. Their despair does not succumb to May's ominous fiddling with pills but is redeemed instead by a kind of teetering love, as when they dance together to an orchestra of washing machines from which night-club vapour drifts out over their fleeting rapture.

Runs until February 4th then tours to the Project Arts Centre, Dublin and The Dock, Leitrim

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture