Swansong: A good starting point for a meaningful conversation about death

Review: Simple clarity runs through the conversation of the characters in a beautiful fairytale


Paulstown Community Hall, Kilkenny

Run finished


Spectators literally step into the world of Swansong. They sit on benches under a canopy of trees, created by set designer Andrew Clancy, as part of this sensitive immersive theatrical experience for young audiences. The setting is a faraway forest, where MAN (Richard Evans), in a tattered tuxedo, is digging a hole in which he can bury his cello. BOY (Ella Maria Carmen) appears, wearing a violin case on his back and clutching a packet of crisps.

BOY has run away from home and is also keen to divest himself of his instrument. As they begin reluctantly conversing, reluctantly sharing the crisps, a shared purpose is revealed. BOY’s journey will come to its inevitable end, and MAN will help him take the final step towards that destination.

Dealing with the concrete reality of terminal illness, Shane O’Reilly’s compact work is deliberately fabular in its construction. The circular abstractions of MAN and BOY’s conversation, however, are never confusing, and there is a simple clarity to the exchanges that viewers younger than the 9+ guidance age will be able to follow, although older audience members will perhaps be better equipped to deal with the sad ending. The characters are brilliantly defined by their dialogue — MAN’s open-ended philosophical pondering, BOYs blunt insistence on directness — and the excellent performers each enlist the audience on their side. If, at the start, we are not sure whose side we are on, by the end it does not matter; MAN and BOY are really a team.

Director Philip Hardy holds the play’s space for openness, with Mark Galione’s otherworldly lighting and Cameron Maccaulay’s sound design facilitating the final transition. Produced by Barnstorm Theatre, Swansong is a beautiful fairytale that serves as a good starting point for a meaningful conversation about death.