Black Box Theatre, Galway
This is a play about enclosure. As with most of Enda Walsh's work, the audience are confronted with a room. Contained within it is a brimming tension that balances darkness and humour on a delicate tightrope. It is exhausting and powerful.
At the outset, the slapstick style appears to jar with the surroundings, but only for a moment. It’s not long before the audience realise they are being invited into the sometimes manic and always unnerving world of our protagonist, John Kane (Domhnall Gleeson) – both his mind and reality.
We are here to bear witness not just to the testimony of John's experience but also to the system that enshrines it. This production is cleverly self-aware, and that it is one of the first in Ireland for more than a year to play before an indoor live audience is not lost on Walsh, who echoes this in his directing decisions.
The ghosts of Ireland's failures – tribunals, institutionalisation and complicity – echo through the play. Cruelty is repeated again and again. Only a few small acts of humanity intervene to mark the passage of time. It is impossible to look away
Audiences and artists alike have missed the opportunities that the close collective of an indoor performance brings: the scrunched-up, shuffling, intimate mass of breathing bodies that creates power through its physical presence. Medicine was made for this dynamic.
The design team – particularly Teho Teardo, who wrote the score, Jamie Vartan, who designed the set, and Adam Silverman, who designed the lighting – take full advantage of the cavernous Black Box Theatre, making big choices that fill the space, drawing us into often awful intimacy. Seán Carpio's onstage drumming adds to the effect, heightening the absurdity and the unsettled feeling.
A taut balance of levity and sorrow is carefully maintained by a talented ensemble. Clare Barrett is in her element. Her signature deadpan comedy finds new feet as she delivers a persuasive and potent performance.
Aoife Duffin’s physicality powers the play. Gleeson is a force, in the true definition of the word. His performance repeatedly cuts you to the bone.
It is hard to leave your sense of distance at the door here. As our protagonist knows, opting out isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
Medicine, which premiered at last month's Edinburgh International Festival and moves to St Ann's Warehouse, in Brooklyn, in November, merges comedy, absurdism and musicality. At first this might not seem the most convincing combination, but it becomes clear that there is no other way to tell this story. In this room echo the ghosts of Ireland's failures: tribunals, institutionalisation and complicity. Cruelty is repeated again and again. Only a few small acts of humanity intervene to mark the passage of time. It is impossible to look away.
Runs until Saturday, September 18th, as part of Galway International Arts Festival. Also livestreamed September 15th-18th, with watch on demand September 20th-26th