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The Pigeon Factory review: Aaron O’Neill gives an ingenious, consistently entertaining performance

Theatre: Directed by Dee Finn, this adroit production revives the passion for pigeon fancying that sent swirls of homing birds into Irish skies

The Pigeon Factory

Cork Arts Theatre

There was a time in Cork when pigeons wheeled upwards in flight above their lofts in the crowded terraces below, but this is not the time that Aaron O’Neill, The Pigeon Factory’s writer and performer, has chosen to frame his antic allegory. His birds are caged, their avian skills deplumed. Instead their owner, Walden, has farmed their egg-producing potential as nourishment for his otherwise inexpressible rage against as many aspects of the modern world as can be accommodated in the script. It is the accommodation rather than the fantasy, or even the rage, that makes this presentation by Oh!Scare Wilde Productions remarkable.

In phrasing that sharpens the distinction between a one-man show and a stand-up comic by measuring the appetite for laughter, O’Neill injects allusion, reference, memory and experience into a rapid but surefire commentary on what seems to have been the past 70 years. The ear has to be alert for the impact and implications of this confessional: the Kennedy-era Ambassador Hotel is all backrooms, for example; the jitterbug might be Elvis caught in a centrifuge; life is managed slavery. Miss the reference and it vanishes in a continuum of animated despair, although this fluid subtlety allows an occasional suspicion of more cleverness than might be intended.

Combining intellectual and physical ingenuity, O’Neill’s frenetic performance remains consistently entertaining. Retrospective and prognosis prove comically adroit in a production where timing is briskly controlled by a crew from director Dee Finn to lighting, sound and set by Orla Kelly-Smith, Adam Donovan and Aodh Lamere, not forgetting the silver-wire birds by Séana Coveney. This efficiency heightens slight effects, as when a legless mannequin unable to dance is vengefully robed in cloak and hat and, for a visual second, evokes the allure of a cover for Vogue. Through it all O’Neill keeps his rhythm, and, even as he breathes that these doomed pigeons are his family, his voice revives that once-vital passion for the fancy that sent swirls of homing birds above our inner-city roofs.

The Pigeon Factory has ended its run at Cork Arts Theatre; it is at Smock Alley, Dublin, from Tuesday, May 7th, to Saturday, May 11th

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture