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Colic review: Inhabiting the troubling space of struggling adults

Dublin Theatre Festival 2022: Eoghan Quinn asks ‘who’s the baby?’ in an unsettling play about parenthood


Pavilion Theatre

The baby is crying. Aisling (Kate Stanley Brennan) and Matt (Ekow Quartey) are exhausted. They are trying to have dinner, have a serious conversation. They are trying to relax, but every time they settle into themselves the monitor in the corner interjects with the baby’s siren call.

“What’s wrong with it?” asks Jan (Liz Fitzgibbon) when she calls by with a white-noise machine she thinks might help. It’s colic, Aisling eventually concedes: the baby is “crying for no reason”. The doctor, Matt reports, says she will grow out of it. But Eoghan Quinn’s unsettling play, with its struggling, anxious adults and its constant hum of unease, suggests Matt’s optimism is entirely misplaced.

Despite the dramatic device of the wailing baby, Colic is less a play about parenthood than it is about “adulting”. Aisling is so wrapped up in her own exhaustion she seems barely able to discuss her role as caregiver, let alone inhabit it, while Matt is distracting himself from his anxieties about their relationship by tending to the baby’s needs ahead of his own. The appearance of their friend Tom (Colin Campbell), who is recovering from a breakdown, triggers further notes of disquiet, as does the constant buzzing of mobile phones, which create “a black hole in the room” into which the characters’ attention and objective reality are sucked.

Annabelle Comyn’s staging of the play is admirably challenging, embracing Quinn’s commendable attempt to “test the strength of [the theatre’s] frame”. On Alyson Cummins’s rigorously realistic apartment set, Quinn’s opening scenario is played with resolute naturalism: an onion is slowly chopped and sizzled, a pot of pasta simmers on the hob. However, technology acts as a portal through which the demands of reality and first-person objectivity slip. Philip Stewart’s sound design and Kevin McFadden’s lighting are instrumental in demarcating this dramaturgical device for the audience.


Suggestive plot points (to creche or not to creche, a dying uncle in London, alcohol- and drug-induced blackouts) are offered as a breadcrumb trail through Quinn’s narrative, but ultimately they go nowhere. Fairy-tale motifs bookend the 90-minute drama, and this allusive, metaphorical invocation is key to unlocking Colic’s intent, which is to destabilise narrative rather than represent, to inhabit a troubling space rather than tell a story.

Runs at the Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, until Sunday, October 9th, as part of Dublin Theatre Festival

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

Sara Keating, a contributor to The Irish Times, is an arts and features writer