Fine, feathered friends and neighbours: The week’s best theatre
Cillian Murphy stars in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Plus: The Unmanageable Sisters at the Abbey and THISISPOPBABY’s mini-St Patrick’s festival
The Unmanageable Sisters
Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Black Box Theatre, Galway Previews March 16th-19th Opens March 20th-24th 8pm €22.50-€30
O’Reilly Theatre, Dublin March 28th-Apr 5th 7.30pm (Sat mat 2pm) €26-€40
Nothing fills the absence that announces grief, but in Max Porter’s absorbing and affecting book, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, it does invite a strange new presence. This is Crow, who sweeps into a London flat shared by Dad, his two young sons and, until a very recent tragedy, their mother. That Dad is a literary scholar, currently working on an appreciation of Ted Hughes, is not lost on him. And just as the poet transmuted his grief into his seminal collection Crow, so Dad seems to have summoned this indeterminate figure into the numb normality of their life: a taunter, protector, trickster, healer, a fine-feathered friend.
A startling, shuddering work, full of literary devices and hopping allusions, Porter’s book hardly screamed out for adaptation. But if any art form could effect an equivalent sense of shapeshifting between dispiriting reality and uneasy dream, it’s the theatre. And if any adapter could plumb the depths of loss without losing the instinct for play, it’s Enda Walsh. With his frequent collaborator Cillian Murphy, a champion of Porter’s book, Walsh’s work as adapter and director has taken wing with various producers, foremost among them the legendary Complicité and Wayward Productions, in association with Landmark Productions and Galway International Arts Festival.
Sold out in Galway and Dublin, with further international dates expected, it is already something to crow about.
In 1968, the Quebecois playwright Michel Tremblay broke new ground with his play Les Belles-soeurs, putting 15 working-class Montreal women on the stage and having them speak naturally. That required the use of joual, a French dialect that the establishment already considered vulgar, before hearing it put to demotic and profane use here in a boisterous and cramped kitchen. A sensational and liberating performance, which has the vain winner of a million Gold Star stamps (that familiar customer loyalty scam) and all the women she knows to help stick them into booklets, it allowed for frank discussions of men, the church, quotidian joy and, with celebrated rapture, bingo.
That may not sound entirely universal, and it’s telling that one of the most successful translations of the play has been into Scots, a sympathetic vernacular, for The Guid Sisters. Now Deirdre Kinahan adapts the play for 1970s Ballymun in a new Abbey production directed by Graham McLaren and starring, well, pretty much everybody. To single out anyone defeats the purpose: even as the women help or betray one another, they’re united in an argot, the way their voices come together.
Where We Live
The Complex, Dublin until March 18th various times €15 thisispopbaby.com
How do you get a read on a place? In THISISPOPBABY’s mini-festival with St Patrick’s Day Festival, featuring exhibitions, performances, talks and screenings, it helps to take a step back, to use a wide angle. Its theatre programme features four shows – and acclaimed actor Clare Dunne’s work-in-progress Sure Look It, Fuck It ( March 11th 8.30pm) – that take both macro and micro views of the city. Tara Flynn continues her refreshingly frank, funny and cathartic account of seeking an abortion abroad in Not a Funny Word (March 10th 9.30pm). A mingling of Irish emigration stories and tales of those seeking asylum here find their expression with music in The Mouth of the Shark (March 11th 6.30pm/March 12th-15th 8.30pm). Meanwhile, Peter Daly’s one-man explanation of the bank bailout, Money (March 12th-15th 6.30pm) comes as a hilarious and infuriating performance lecture. All in all, that certainly sounds like us.