Bang!: Impressive exploration of complex themes of gender and identity

Dublin Theatre Festival: Michelle Read’s play is nuanced and deeply attuned to character development

BANG!
Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
★★★★☆

It is the night of Marion and Adam’s 25th wedding anniversary celebration, and tensions are high. Marion (Gene Rooney) is menopausal, Adam (Mark D’Aughton) has been depressed, and their daughter Kim (Maura Bird) has decided to use the opportunity to come out as lesbian.

Kim’s scene-stealing declaration, however, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to kept secrets for this South Dublin suburban family. Adam has been living a deceptive double-life for years: inspired by his daughter’s embrace of her true identity, he reveals to his family that he is really Anna, a woman born in the wrong body. It is a lot for the family to deal with, but luckily they have a fairy-godmother, their Argentinian cleaner, Alejandra (Alexandra Conlon), whose unshockability helps to ground the family in their shared love, even when china is flying across the room.

Bang! condenses enough plot into a two-hour play for an entire season of a soap opera. However, Michelle Read’s writing is sensitive, nuanced and deeply attuned to character development. This is clear in both the establishing scenes and the denouement, but is perhaps best typified by a well-sketched out subplot involving Marion’s brother Declan (the excellent Simon O’Gorman), whose troubles are given due weight, despite being ancillary to the main action of the play.

READ MORE

With such rich material to work with, the actors are enabled to explore the deep texture of these conflicted lives. As Marion, Rooney is alternately soft and spiky, as she deals with the physical changes of middle-aged womanhood and the sudden shift in the family dynamic. D’Aughton is quietly restrained as Adam/Anna. The transgender struggle, his performance highlights, is an internal one that needs to be personally resolved, not publicly performed. Yet the “tune in next week” ending, however, takes that control from Anna. Anna’s journey, Read suggests, is only beginning.

Director Davey Kelleher embraces Read’s realistic dialogue in his direction of the individual scenes. However, he employs Eddie Kay’s stylised choreography for transitional moments to add extra dimension to the piece. These expressionistic sequences foreshadow the rupture of traditional family life in the first instance, but as the play develops they are used to give somatic expression to each characters’ individual journey. It is an effective way of highlighting the strengths of Read’s play, its deep attention to the human character in moments of change.