Blood in the Dirt review: Rory Gleeson breathes life into an Irish-Canadian folk tale

Lorcan Cranitch gives a robust performance in a timely commentary on the rights of possession and the balance of power

Blood in the Dirt: Lorcan Cranitch’s monologue can feel more like poetry than theatre. Photograph: Patrick Redmond

Blood in the Dirt: Lorcan Cranitch’s monologue can feel more like poetry than theatre. Photograph: Patrick Redmond

 

BLOOD IN THE DIRT

New Theatre, Dublin
★★★☆☆
Francis Donnelly (Lorcan Cranitch) is a man doomed by fate. As the last living descendant of a cursed and infamous bloodline, he finds himself repeating his ancestors’ cruel history. Set on a farm in rural Co Tipperary, Rory Gleeson’s debut play is a timely commentary on the rights of possession and the balance of power.

Donnelly is the last man in a condemned line of Donnellys and Carrolls. It is the evening of his violent eviction from the Donnelly family farm. The opening moments of the play juxtapose stillness and intensity, a relationship that pervades all aspects of the production.

Gleeson’s literary background shows in the poetic fluidity of his writing. At times Cranitch’s monologue feels more like poetry than theatre, and the depth of language and the challenging of form breathe life into this Canadian folk tale.

Despite this useful conversation in form, it is sometimes unclear to whom exactly Donnelly is telling his story, and firmer direction is needed here to fully and convincingly transform Gleeson’s writing into performance.

Lorcan Cranitch capably oscillates between moments of extraordinary violence and aimless meandering in the decrepit barn in which Donnelly has barricaded himself 

Cranitch commands a robust presence in his portrayal of Francis Donnelly. He capably oscillates between moments of extraordinary violence and aimless meandering in the decrepit barn in which Donnelly has barricaded himself. Cranitch is at his strongest in the second half of the play, where the production finds its dramatic feet and connects with its audience.

Aesthetically the piece is a triumph of subtlety. Paul Keogan’s set and lighting design work in unison to deliver Caitríona McLaughlin’s vision as director. The setting, a farmyard barn, is simultaneously familiar and grotesque. Similarly, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s evocative score creates an absorbing atmosphere that evokes the idea of the unseen in its discordance.

Although some further development is needed to fully realise the potential of this play, in many ways it delivers. Here, time is a layered and overlapping force. The audience is presented with the dramatic past, the dramatic present and the real-life contemporary world in simultaneous and clear focus.

The thematic resonances of contemporary and historical events are ever-present ghosts in Gleeson’s story. The recent memory of the Strokestown and North Frederick Street evictions by masked men weighs heavily on this piece. So, too, does the violent attack on Kevin Lunney. If this is Gleeson’s intention, it is capably delivered.

Runs at the New Theatre, Dublin, until November 30th

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