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Theatre for One: This Ireland review – Brilliant, totally immersive one-to-one plays

Cork Midsummer Festival 2024: The brilliance of these 12 five-minute plays lies in their containment

Theatre for One: This Ireland – Marina Carr, Enda Walsh, Stacey Gregg and Emmet Kirwan are four of this year's 12 playwrights. Photograph: Clare Keogh

Theatre for One: This Ireland

Cork Midsummer Festival

Theatre for One: This Ireland is a succession of totally immersive one-to-one engagements from which there is no retreat. Each visitor is ushered into a comfortably padded booth that, as the door to the world outside closes with a thud, is vaguely reminiscent of a cell.

The full cycle, staged by Landmark Productions and Octopus Theatricals, involves 12 five-minute plays, half by the six writers featured in the initial, 2019 production – Marina Carr, Stacey Gregg, Emmet Kirwan, Louise Lowe, Mark O’Rowe and Enda Walsh – and half by new writers whom they have mentored: Iseult Deane, Susannah Al Fraihat, Aoibhéann McCann, Joy Nesbitt, Ois O’Donoghue and Aoife Delany Reade.

The three selected for performance on Saturday share the effect of imprisonment, internalised in each case by the requirements of the script. The single, silent audience member has to be sharp to catch the clues, but the writing and the playing are themselves so clever and so committed that when the lights brighten and the door opens, one emerges both reluctant and elated.

In Bait, Una Kavanagh is a woman struggling into a dress. She appeals for an opinion as if from a friend sharing the fitting room, but it’s for her safety that she is appealing: the costume must please her abusive partner, who is otherwise inclined to describe her efforts as putting lipstick on a sow. The power of Louise Lowe’s subtle writing shows an exhausted, despairing woman who once wanted to be someone and became anyone, and whose battle with her zip reveals a kicked bruise on her back, florid as a dissolving tattoo.


Dear Rosa is by Joy Nesbitt, whose mentor for this production is Enda Walsh, and whose young protagonist goes straight into her subject. Demi Isaac Oviawe gives voice to a social dilemma resolved in Ireland’s case by that pause before identifying a black person as, um, black. We know that hesitation, and here it deepens to a failure of shared responsibility for a shared identity.

Walsh himself is the writer of Cave, played by Peter Corboy as a being immured in a sea cave, clothed in human skin and wearing a man’s clothes but with a battered lifebelt where his heart should be. His hidden presence yearns for company, but swimmers won’t venture further to find him within his cavern of weed and wrack.

The brilliance of these shows lies in their containment. The five minutes of each episode is long enough to remember Hamlet, prince of Denmark, who could be “bounded in a nutshell” and count himself a king of infinite space. Theatre for One offers the nutshell, and the space.

Theatre for One: This Ireland, presented by Cork Midsummer Festival and Cork Opera House, runs until Sunday, June 23rd

Mary Leland

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