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Tempesta review: Stephanie Dufresne and Naoise Dunbar shine in Deirdre Kinahan’s moving play

Cork Midsummer Festival 2024: A play of such dimensions could repay a few more than these 75 minutes, especially with so much gorgeous writing to savour

Cork Midsummer Festival 2024: Stephanie Dufresne and Naoise Dunbar in Tempesta, by Deirdre Kinahan. Photograph: Marcin Lewandowski/


Cork Midsummer Festival

With Tempesta, Cork Midsummer Festival revives its haunting ability to discover locations that have always been there. For this new play by Deirdre Kinahan, presented with Sugarglass, we are at the old Pavilion Cinema, aka the Pav, on Patrick Street, which is now a shop, bar and late-night cafe. The play’s producers must have recognised the risk of being outclassed by the splendours of the venue, but it was a risk worth taking, as the prominent issues of the drama find an increasing relevance to the history and architecture of this 1921 building.

The story of enduring love between two young people who don’t quite know what to do with it is not unusual in itself. Set against the turmoil of their time, however, their passion for one another is in competition with the imperatives of social justice and the impending political ravages of Europe.

Both boy and girl, man and woman, have their ideals and also their hopes, and it is Ellie Rosen who keeps her feet on the unpromising pavements of Clanbrassil Street, in Dublin. Louis Doyle is inspired, as he declaims, by a passion for love and equality and freedom and posterity – “that’s all,” he says, in 1937. Alight with ardour, he leaves to fight like other Irishmen in the Spanish Civil War, rosary beads and grenade in the same trouser pocket, all in the hope of bringing socialism home to Ireland.

Despite the storm of letters he sends to Ellie, the distance becomes the difference. She is a Jew, reared on her mother’s terrified escape from Odessa, seeing Dublin as a sanctuary of ritual and order where she might build a little Jerusalem, with its approved hours for prayer and observation and then an hour for gossip. In Louis’s long absence she succumbs to her family’s insistence on an arranged marriage to a jeweller living in Hamburg – a clunky script development, as even Clanbrassil Street might have heard about Jews in Germany by 1938.


A tale of such dimensions could repay a few more than these 75 minutes, especially as there is so much of Kinahan’s gorgeous writing to savour: opening a futile letter from Louis, Ellie “rolls the words around her mouth like kisses”. Although the polemic is overblown, the wavering threads of a misunderstood relationship are held tenderly together. That is a special skill.

Cork Midsummer Festival 2024: Stephanie Dufresne in Tempesta, by Deirdre Kinahan. Photograph: Marcin Lewandowski/

As Molly O’Cathain’s set brings the audience very close to the action, we can see the sweat of demanding roles played with belief and honesty. There is a lot of activity, a dance, hasty attempts at sex, a table that is not only the central playing area but also a source of beautiful models, such as the redbrick terrace that Ellie holds like a treasure in her hands.

Naoise Dunbar, as the driven Louis, and Stephanie Dufresne, as the mischievous Ellie, jump and wrestle and run with worrying confidence to the very edges of the table and at the same time, and with the same confidence, present their characters with a profound, poignant truth.

With his original music for fiddle, guitar and wonderful bodhrán, Steve Wickham provides linkage as well an emotive accompaniment to a performance directed by Marc Atkinson Borrull and warmly resonant with the shared skills of cast, crew and writer.

Tempesta runs until Sunday, June 23rd, as part of Cork Midsummer Festival

Mary Leland

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