Wake: Caught between death and the ham sandwich

Review: Monologue shreds ritual banalities of funeral ceremonies with glee

Wake

Cork Arts Theatre
★★★☆☆

This animated monologue written and performed by Irene Kelleher and directed by Geoff Gould shreds the ritual banalities of funeral ceremonies with glee. Not exactly untrodden territory, the family gathering hovering around the “good” room in the home of Lily O’Donnell’s deceased mother provides a parade of eccentrics, which even in a rustic environment might be classed as grotesque if Kelleher had not pared them back to mannerisms just about acceptable as likely, or even, here and there, recognisable. It’s not whistling past the graveyard but it is dancing around the corpse, and as with many funerals there is a sense of a licensed hilarity in Kelleher’s agile vocal range, shifting readily from whispered condolences to octogenarian endearments.

A cleverly accommodating set from Davy Dummigan enlarges these transitions, while the lighting by Steve Neale, sweeping across a wallpaper of nostalgic familiarity, weights and darkens a script which is also enhanced by Cormac O'Connor's sound design, reflective rather than anticipatory. Such constituents are needed to bring structure to a piece which otherwise might fall between stand-up and narrative, and Gould's direction has used these essential skills to support an undertone of bewildered and reluctant grief. Nevertheless, the gradual clues to the thaw from resistance to acceptance emerge too slowly to give the heft and tension Kelleher needs to make the work more compelling. Her comic timing has an edge as she satirises her subjects – from the aunt, never comfortable in her own skin and addicted to animal prints, who tonight is wearing snakeskin, to the mourners eating their way through the butterfly buns and the Black Forest Alaska, or to the relationship between death and the ham sandwich.

Presented as one of the busy and buzzy Arts Theatre’s 10 productions in its Creative Empowerment programme for this year, Wake cuts sharp and sure, but could cut deeper.

Until April 2nd

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