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Solar Bones review: Words worth listening to

Stanley Townsend carries the weight of this haunting adaptation of Mike McCormack’s novel

Solar Bones

Abbey Theatre

Church bells toll at the beginning of Michael West’s elegant adaptation of the prize-winning novel by Mike McCormack. The sound is the familiar knell of the Angelus, drawing the world of Marcus Costello, engineer philosopher, into being. Standing uneasily in his kitchen, Costello is unsure whether he is hearing the noontide prayer or the 6pm call for reflection. He has an “anxious, twitchy feeling”. The sun appears to have fallen away and with it the regular ebb of time passing.

Solar Bones is an ode to the ordinary, a celebration of a gloriously unremarkable existence. In Costello we are offered an intimate portrait of the mundane moments that provide the solid foundations of a life. Costello is son, father, husband, professional, citizen, carer. The most exciting plot points in the arc of his personal narrative are his refusal to sign off on a dodgy school building, and his wife’s infection with the cryptosporidium parasite. Both incidents illustrate something crucial about Costello’s character: his rigorousness, his kindness, his belief in the importance of social structures, even when they fail him. Despite the passionately prosaic details of his monologue — the joy of pouring concrete is rapturously exalted — undercutting everything Costello says is an exploration of the metaphysical mechanics of the world.

In Lynne Parker’s slow and meditative production for Rough Magic, the action unfolds in the skeleton shape of Costello’s silent and empty kitchen, a structure artfully designed by Zia Bergin-Holly to suggest a house under construction; or is it being slowly taken apart? The makeshift physical reality of the set does not exclude touches of beauty. Under Bergin-Holly’s lighting design, which tracks Marcus’s emotional state across the timeless limbo of the 90 minutes we spend in his company, the Mayo landscape is revealed on upright surfaces, behind the plastic-wrapped utilities at the back of the half-made room.

It is Stanley Townsend as Marcus, however, who must carry the weight of this haunting show, whose uncanny atmosphere is heightened by Denis Clohessy’s sound design. With his sonorous voice and restless frame, Townsend slides between sadness, confusion and steadfast resolution that the lyrics of his life are worth listening to.


Runs at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, until Saturday, October 29th, then at the Everyman, Cork, from Wednesday, November 2nd, to Friday, November 4th

Sara Keating

Sara Keating

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