DTF Review | At the Ford: Faced with a bailout, what would Chulainn and Ferdia do?

Recent history and ancient myth conspire to give a blow-by-blow account of the humbling of a nation


At the Ford

New Theatre


In a bare, broken and very, very blood-spattered room, two weary brothers find themselves once again going around in circles.

To some, Chulainn (the “Cú” no longer dogging him) and Ferdia will be familiar opponents, modelled on the legendary match from the Táin Bó Cúailnge. But Gavin Kostick’s new play for Rise Productions seeks to make them more recognisable: Irish emblems arguing over the signing of a humiliating bankruptcy deal, a European bail out.

As Aonghus Óg McAnally’s stubbornly defiant Chulainn and Ian Toner’s wily Ferdia continue their own negotiations through rib-cracking jabs and smacks – as plentiful, in director Bryan Burroughs’ energetic production, as those of a UFC bout – it becomes an allegorical recapitulation of the recent humbling (and possible resurgence) of Ireland, or a blow-by-blow account.

“Portmarnock is not the centre of the world,” says Ferdia, the more skilled orator, “The centre of our world is Frankfurt.”

Kostick’s reading is even more fatalistic, introducing heavy notes from Greek mythology, making them the children of unwitting incest, which has led finally to their parents’ suicides and the collapse of over-extended business interests. The allusions are underscored by a sister, Mags (the Morrígan), who arrives late as a materialistic femme fatale, played by Rachel O’Byrne, when Ferdia has been laid out for the count. With the family’s changing fortunes, and a Bugatti more treasured than any bull, this may no longer be a time for male heroes, she reasons.

“What a strange ragbag of thoughts,” chides McAnally at one point, and within a play that pauses to consider how Seamus Heaney might phrase things, to point up literary tropes, or object to obvious metaphors, it feels like a moment of self-critique. The verse text is often so dense with detail, allusions and asides, it makes the brute physicality feel like overkill. More lyrical moments are better served in quiet manoeuvres, such as Toner’s graceful recounting of a teenage trek through Glendalough.

“I don’t know what I remember and what I made up,” says a distraught Mags, as though history and myth have become confused. It’s a tacit admission that our classic forbears won’t easily elucidate or resolve the tangles of the present, but also that wars within never end. Nobody wins in this fight, the production knows; only that it’s destined to go on.

Until Oct 3