Baoite review: Boring deep into the bedrock of a bitterly divided family

A fracking vessel that threatens a fishing community becomes a potent metaphor

BAOITE

Abbey Theatre, Dublin
★★★☆☆
Prosperity is something to angrily oppose in Darach Mac Con Iomaire's play for An Taidhbhearc and the Abbey Theatre, as it looms ominously on the horizon. This is not the rising tide that lifts all boats, however: Prosperity is a cynically named fracking vessel, poised to enter the bay of a beleaguered west of Ireland fishing community and begin exploiting the natural resources, whatever the environmental or economic consequences. Most of the village are up in arms, but after three wearying years some are ready to capitulate. Why commit to another "noble defeat", they ask. Who wants to stand in the way of Prosperity?

So begins a thoughtful drama about a bitterly divided family, as wary of the future as they are tangled up in the past, in which fracking, of all things, becomes a potent metaphor. When Cáit (Sorcha Ní Chéide), the adult daughter of a brusque fisherman, Pat (Macdara Ó Fátharta), leases her land to the fracking company, the betrayal bores into the bedrock of the family until it cracks, and secrets come bubbling to the surface, both acrid and explosive.

The play's dilemmas and plot points are as tightly knotted as a fishing net, casting forwards and hauling back in time

Premiered at last year’s Galway International Arts Festival, Mac Con Iomaire’s play – he is writer, director and producer – is canny and conscientious in how it mines its own resources. The play’s dilemmas and plot points are as tightly knotted as a fishing net, casting forwards and hauling back in time. Cáit, for instance, a “Judas” in the eyes of her brother, Tom (a forever clenched Diarmuid De Faoite), has her sights fixed on the future, pursuing another costly round of IVF treatment that only deepens tensions with her husband, Simon (Eoin Ó Dubhghaill), while anticipating the imminent extinction of the community.

Her father, an outwardly repentant alcoholic (given great gravitas in Ó Fátharta’s performance), is firmly anchored to a declining way of life, staunchly supported by his son, whose loyalty was forged during a family tragedy, never fully confronted. When Pat’s fishing boat sinks during a protest, in murky circumstances, the sins of the past – treachery, sabotage and fathomless guilt – are sifted up again, and questions of conscience and concealment are stirred once more.

Given a sparing beauty by Seán Ó Flaithearta's design, in which an abstract expressionist canvas gradually splinters into pieces, and a livid green net hovers above the stage, the production finds similar grace in music, subtly performed by Saileog Ní Cheannabháin and Maitiú Ó Casaide, and sometimes movement in dreamlike interludes. Not every element can meet the show's clear ambitions, leaving some intimate dialogues stilted in performance, and one unseen character, a vulnerable refugee, further marginalised in the role of a plot device.

Performed in Irish, with English surtitles, and universally recognised swear words, it is nonetheless a refreshing depiction of an insular community whose attentions are facing outwards. Can we forge a better future, it asks as the hook of its dilemma, if we are not reconciled with our past? You’re wise to take the bait.

Runs until Saturday, May 25th

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