Total recall: Two theatre revivals full of remembering
Donal O’Kelly returns to ‘Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son’, 30 years after its debut. Doireann Coady continues to count the days since her brother’s suicide in ‘I’m Not Here’
Donal O’Kelly returns to Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son
A little over 30 years after its premier production, Donal O’Kelly’s first major success as a theatre maker returns to complete its national tour of 30 performances.
The play itself, originally produced by Rough Magic Theatre Company at the Dublin Theatre Festival, is all about revisiting pivotal moments too. Set in Dublin in the 1980s, it concentrates on a self-made hauling magnate called Rabbit, a businessman in pinstripes raking it in while attempting to come to terms with his past. His father, Bat, is a key element of that, a Citizen Army volunteer, now deceased, who fought in the Rising. Can the father and son be reconciled?
Undertaking a quest through Dublin to rediscover his lost moorings, Rabbit journeys with the spirit of his father in tow, and Kelly’s performance represented an early attempt to address the burgeoning prosperity of the nation – a few years before another zoomorphic trope, the Celtic Tiger, came to define it – while broaching the consequences for its soul.
As intensely physical in conception as it is politically considered in its writing, Bat the Father, Rabbit the Son initiated a style that has come to define O’Kelly’s work ever since. So indelibly, in fact, that even three decades later it’s hard to imagine anyone else adopting the performance. No other city could be substituted, for all the tumult since, and so this is a welcome opportunity to see O’Kelly and Dublin return to the roles, to see how much has changed, and how much remains the same.
Doireann Coady, the writer and performer of I’m Not Here, has been counting the days since her brother’s suicide, nearly 10 years ago. When her harrowing performance debuted, in 2017, it had been 3,104 days since Donal Coady’s tragic death. Revived for a short commitment at Project Arts Centre, when the show returns this week it will have been 3,588. Such specificity, together with fragments of details around the awful event and its aftermath, do not serve to lessen the pain or to make suicide any more comprehensible.
Instead, using an empty chair, found tapes from a DJ set Donal had been preparing, and motifs of a theatrical production that can’t quite begin or find its shape, Coady’s short performance is a grief-stricken meditation on absence, paralysis and incompletion. Some of that is distressing to experience and unflinchingly raw, as though the wounds of her loss are being kept open, in preference to a scar or the possibility of healing.
But TheatreClub’s production attempts something else, too: the struggle to make a duet with the departed, to preserve a connection long after the light has gone out.