Thought-provoking theatre where the audience is just you

Review: Theatre for One’s six microplays are bracing, intimate-as-a-whisper performances

THEATRE FOR ONE

Outside Cork Opera House
★★★★★
Annie Ryan of Corn Exchange once described her Car Show, which played to no more than three passengers at a time back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as "the best show you never saw". Now, conspiring to populate Octopus Theatricals' tiny collapsible venue with microplays from the nation's finest writers and performers, Landmark Productions has a new claim to that title. The only thing these bracing, thought-provoking and intimate-as-a-whisper five-minute, one-on-one performances can't satisfy is demand.

The structure that greets you outside Cork Opera House (which is presenting the show with Cork Midsummer Festival) is something between a giant gig case and a magician's box. That seems appropriate. Srda Vasiljevic and Eoghan Carrick, their directors, make the plays feel as immediate as a song, revealing and then concealing their performers, as a kind of conjuring act. Now you see them. Now you don't.

In that blink of intensity neither the playwrights, the actors nor the audience ever seemed so electrically aware of each other or, for that matter, themselves.

In Cork, some queued hours for their five-minute dramas. If it ever returns, it will be worth the wait for such transfixing experiences, one at a time

Queen of the Pyramids, Emmet Kirwan's play, might exploit that best, subverting the snap judgment of our first impressions, subtly alluding to the workings of performance, therapy and mirroring, while an initially vulnerable Kate Gilmore gradually and wittily reveals the many faces of manipulation. Are you the watcher here, or the watched?

Eileen Walsh, in Louise Lowe's Bait, initially seems to deliver a more photorealistic, compassionate study in victimhood, yet the after effect is more complicated and unsettling. Built up through small exchanges but huge need, the piece sensitively suggests that some abusive relationships follow dreadful patterns of compatibility.

If that suggests confined performance can still plumb deep, Mark O’Rowe’s arch The Spur follows suit, layered with teasing contradictions. Derbhle Crotty’s speaker may be enthusingly effervescent, but her speaking is marvellously, slyly circuitous. So, it seems, is her moral pathway, and you find yourself warming to someone fundamentally chilling. Who is more suggestible, then: this oblivious, self-centred character, who has decided to live out a story; or the person she is regarding, suckered by another?

Still, the most conceptually involving piece may be Stacey Gregg’s Brilliant, a welcome addition to her droll brand of techsistentialism. Distilling ideas of philosophy, entropy, simulation and honesty into a brief run-in with a loose acquaintance, Kathy Rose O’Brien gives an almost transgressively candid bearing to her frazzled new parent. Her message is surprisingly reassuring, given the circumstances: we’re not alone.

Enda Walsh recognises something similar in Cave, offering an incantatory encounter with Frank Blake's mysterious figure, whose story shifts from the booth to the mind in hypnotic suggestion (and Joshua Higgason's disarming light and sound).

The mesmerising Seán McGinley does less with more in Marina Carr’s Cygnum Canticum, a play heavy with mythic allusion, but performed so quietly, gracefully and sparingly that the merest moment of direct eye contact feels like a jolt to the soul.

In Cork, some queued hours for their five-minute dramas. If Theatre for One ever returns, it will be worth the wait for such transfixing experiences, one at a time.

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