Far Away review: Spike Island becomes a dystopia once again

Caryl Churchill’s short, brutal play is brilliantly realised


Spike Island, Cork

These days dystopia is a cliche, and finding new interpretations for its horrors might challenge any production company. Except Corcadorca, which in its characteristic fearlessness is staging Caryl Churchill’s famously short, famously brutal and famously nihilistic drama on, in and around a fortified island in Cork harbour.

Give its site-specific mandate, Corcadorca always takes the risk that the location will surpass the play and this happens, beginning with the ferry from Cobh to Spike Island and ending in the return journey at midnight. We know it is midnight because the cathedral bells across the water in Cobh ring out as we navigate the roadway back down the defensive slopes surrounding this former garrison and prison.


Indeed we are far away, dislocated and unsettled, half-stunned by an ominous soundscape designed by Mel Mercier on the principle that with cannons to the right of him, and cannons to the left of him, he might as well enhance the fort's explosive capabilities.

Resolution is not Churchill's task as a playwright: darkness is all. Her narrative explores the fragility of truth sacrificed to explanation, how responsibility dissolves in the acceptance of fake news, and how, when the war of the worlds erupts, it is a war of humankind versus nature, as if Rachel Carson's Silent Spring has sprouted rifles instead of roots with animals and insects taking to arms and allies.

This bleak and provocative scenario is articulated with conviction by Pauline McLynn, Manus Halligan and Judith Roddy while director Pat Kiernan's late evening timing is justified by the imaginative power invested in these expanses of bastions, prison yards and parade grounds. Crumbling barrack rooms are revealed like the innards of some vast cadaver. Portals enclose the watchers in this promenade.

It is as if we are imprisoned where even the strongly designed areas (with lighting and set design by Aedin Cosgrove and Paul Keogan) evoke a resonance in which the grilled glimpses of a lustrous summer twilight pulse with longing.

Runs until July 1st

Mary Leland

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